In the intricate battlefield of the human body, the immune system serves as both a guardian against pathogens and a regulator of cellular harmony. Within this dynamic framework, regulatory T cells (Tregs) have become a focal point of interest due to their dualistic nature. These cells, known for maintaining immune tolerance and preventing autoimmune disorders, have also been linked to the progression of cancer. In a comprehensive review conducted by researchers from the Medical University of Gdansk and the International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science at the University of Gdansk, Poland, the association between Tregs and carcinogenesis is carefully dissected. The article, published in ‘Contemporary Oncology (Poznan, Poland)’, sheds light on the complexities involved in manipulating Tregs for therapeutic purposes while considering the potential risk for cancer initiation and progression.

DOI: 10.5114/wo.2019.84110

Background: The Double-Edged Sword of T Regulatory Cells

Regulatory T cells play a significant role in immunology, primarily by maintaining immune homeostasis and preventing excessive immune responses, which can result in autoimmunity. Tregs express the transcription factor FoxP3 and high levels of the interleukin-2 receptor alpha chain (CD25), which are critical for their development and immunosuppressive function. The review, led by Mateusz M. Gliwiński and his colleagues, explores how these immunosuppressive warriors can be both protectors and threats to the body’s internal ecosystem.

Controversy in Cancer and Immunotherapy

While the natural function of Tregs is beneficial in preventing diseases caused by overactive immune responses, this same function poses a potential threat in the realm of oncology. In cancer, the immunosuppressive action of Tregs can dampen anti-tumor immune activity, offering a protective shield for cancer cells. This quandary is discussed extensively in the researchers’ review, highlighting studies that depict Tregs as facilitators in the growth and survival of tumors. The cells have been found to infiltrate tumor microenvironments, attracted by signaling factors secreted by cancer cells themselves.

Cancer Therapy Implications: A Delicate Balance

The therapeutic use of Tregs, particularly in treatments for autoimmune diseases, is examined from the perspective of cancer risk. With accumulating evidence pointing towards their role in accelerating existing tumors, clinicians and researchers face a careful balancing act. The review emphasizes the importance of understanding the dual nature of Tregs to prevent unintended consequences in cancer therapy.

Tregs – Accomplices but Not Initiators

One critical conclusion drawn from the evaluation of available scientific data is that Tregs are associated with the acceleration of existing tumors but are not capable of initiating cancer on their own. This distinction is pivotal in assessing the risk associated with therapeutic use of these cells. The researchers assert that while Tregs converge on and interact within the tumor environment, they are not the primary culprits behind the original oncogenic event.

Conclusion and Future Directions

Concluding the review, the authors call for a more nuanced approach to the use of Tregs in therapy. Understanding the interplay between immunosuppressive functions and tumor growth can pave the way for more effective and safer therapeutic interventions. Ongoing research is needed to further elucidate the impact of Tregs on cancer progression and to develop strategies that can enhance the anti-tumor immune response without compromising the body’s tolerance mechanisms.


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1. Treg cells in cancer
2. Regulatory T cell therapy
3. Immune suppression cancer risk
4. Treg immune surveillance
5. FoxP3+ Tregs