London, June 4 : A widely used anti-diabetic drug, called metformin, may boost the immune system and increase the potency of vaccines and cancer treatments, say researchers at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Russell Jones, Dr. Yongwon Choi and Dr. Erika Pearce have found that metformin increases the efficiency of the immune system''s T-cells, which in turn makes cancer and virus-fighting vaccines more effective.
T-cells are the specialized white blood cells of the human immune system that have the inherent ability to remember pathogens they have encountered from previous infections or vaccinations, a trait that enables them to fight subsequent infections much faster.
While the cellular mechanisms behind this "immunological memory" has been the subject of intense study, it is now that the researchers have said that they can use diabetic therapies to manipulate T-cell response and enhance the immune system''s response to infections and cancer alike.
"Many genes involved in diabetes regulation also play a role in cancer progression. There is also a significant body of data suggesting that diabetics are more prone to certain cancers. However, our study is the first to suggest that by targeting the same metabolic pathways that play a role in diabetes, you can alter how well your immune system functions," Nature magazine quoted Jones as saying.
Pearce added: "We serendipitously discovered that the metabolizing, or burning, of fatty acids by T-cells following the peak of infection is critical to establishing immunological memory. We used metformin, which is known to operate on fatty-acid metabolism, to enhance this process, and have shown experimentally in mice that metformin increases T-cell memory as well as the ensuing protective immunity of an experimental anti-cancer vaccine."
The recent findings suggest a new link between the metabolic pathways deregulated in cancer and diabetes and their role in immune cell function.
The results suggest that common diabetic therapies, which alter cellular metabolism, may enhance T-cell memory and, in turn, provide a boost to the immune system.
This could lead to novel strategies for vaccine and anti-cancer therapies.
"Our findings were unanticipated, but are potentially extremely important and could revolutionize current strategies for both therapeutic and protective vaccines," said Choi. (ANI)