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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Harvard researchers identify treatment target in Hodgkin lymphoma
By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent
Hodgkin lymphoma tumors are a paradox. In tumors that can grow as large as baseballs, only a small fraction of the tumor is made up of cancer cells – about 5 percent – but they are surrounded by the patient’s normal immune cells. Something keeps the immune cells from attacking the cancer cells they vastly outnumber.
Harvard researchers will report later this week in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have identified a protein that acts like the tumor’s bodyguard. Called galectin-1, it disables the immune cells, a discovery they believe will lead to better diagnosis and treatment of the blood cancer that usually strikes young adults.
"The reason we think this may turn out to be very important from a clinical perspective is it suggests if you could neutralize the galectin-1 that is being secreted by the Hodgkin lymphoma cells, then you would have a very good chance at re-regulating or reinstalling an effective immune response in Hodgkin lymphoma," Dr. Margaret A. Shipp of Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said in an interview. "We think this may have relevance in other tumors."
The protein is already showing promise as a way to identify tumors as Hodgkin lymphomas as opposed to other types of lymphoma, the paper suggests. Previous work in mice has shown that galectin-1 can also be produced by tumors in melanoma.
"This is a fascinating paper from a big-picture perspective because we are increasingly learning that the immune system is often involved in cancer formation and it can be stimulated to be part of cancer treatment," said Deborah Banker of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is funding the research going forward. "It seems that in general none of us might ever get cancer if the immune system were better at finding the very first cancer cells and eradicated them before they had a chance to multiply."