The paradox of cancer, what makes it so insidious, is that it is us. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi represent invaders—their DNA is that of another organism (or virus). Our immune systems recognize these things as such, and they respond defensively. In most cases these responses are successful. Cancer, however, elicits little such defense because it’s just another part of our bodies. Cancerous cells may be brash, immature, and ultimately deadly, but it’s an internal revolt. The immune system steps aside.
By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD
A great hope of cancer researchers is in harnessing the immune system as an anti-cancer force. This is broadly known as immunotherapy, or, in some cases, biological therapy. Immunotherapy is becoming more and more common in cancer treatment, but it’s still a limited approach, effective for only some cancers and usually in concert with more traditional cancer therapies (chemo, radiation, surgery).
Recently, researchers from Stanford University discovered quite by accident that regular old iron nanoparticles, in the form of the injectable supplement ferumoxytol (currently used to treat iron-deficiency anemia), have a potent immune system rallying effect in mice. Simply, ferumoxytol prompts immune cells called macrophages to attack and destroy tumor cells. It seems likely the concept could extend to human patients, according to a study published Monday in Nature Nanotechnology.