A breakthrough finding in cancer therapy was discovered by researchers from Northeastern University who found increased oxygenation could decrease tumors and improve cancer immunotherapy. The study, entitled “Immunological mechanisms of the anti tumor effects of supplemental oxygenation” was published in Science Translational Medicine.
The current findings were built on Professor Michail SitkovskySitkovsky’s previous work in the early 2000s where he found that a receptor on the surface of immune cells, the A2A adenosine receptor, was responsible for inactivating and inhibiting T cells from invading tumors, subsequently killing them.
In this study, the research team found that additional oxygenation inhibited the accumulation of adenosine due to decreased levels of oxygen (hypoxia) in the tumor milieu, decreasing immunosuppression. This could potentially improve cancer immunotherapy and shrink tumors by allowing T lymphocytes and natural killer cells to preform their functions.
“This discovery shifts the paradigm of decades-long drug development, a process with a low success rate,” said Professor Sitkovsky, in the news release. Professor Sitkovsky added that their strategy could be established quite rapidly by assessing the effect increased levels of oxygen in combination with other cancer immunotherapies already in clinical trials.
The team showed that exposing lung tumors to 40 to 60% oxygen, there was a decrease in the protection granted by A2A adenosine receptor of tumor cells, allowing T cells to regain their ability to invade lung tumors.
Professor Sitkovsy said that inhalation of air with supplemental oxygenation disarms the tumor and wakes up ‘sleepy’ anti-tumor cells, enabling these immune cells to invade and kill the tumor. However, he added that if anti-tumor immune cells are not present, oxygen will have no effect.
Prof. Sitkovsky highlighted that the effects of extra oxygenation might have a higher impact if combined with the natural antagonist of the A2A adenosine receptor, caffeine, which inhibits the protective effects of adenosine receptors. Currently, he and Graham Jones, professor and chair of Northeastern’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, are collaborating to develop a future class of this compound. “People drink coffee because caffeine prevents the A2A adenosine receptor in the brain from putting us to sleep,” said Prof. Sitkovsky.