Meet STING: Scientists identify natural immune-boosting protein that could promote anti-cancer immunity
STING stands for Stimulator of Interferon Genes; it stimulates the immune system whenever there is a viral or cancerous invader in the body.
Cancer is a complex disease which requires a multi-directional approach for its treatment. Oncologists are still working on finding more innovative approaches to tackle cancer in an effective manner. However, as per a recent article published in the journal Science on 21st August 2020, scientists have found a natural immune-boosting protein called STING, which can produce anti-tumour immunity in the body.
What is STING?
STING stands for Stimulator of Interferon Genes; it stimulates the immune system whenever there is a viral or cancerous invader in the body. STING is a protein which is made up of 379 amino acids and is found in various endothelial cells, epithelial cells, haematopoietic cells, T cells, macrophages and even dendritic cells (antigen-presenting cells).
STING acts as a molecule which controls the transcription of various genes, including the genes of the host defence system. The host defence genes include the genes that produce immune cells, like type I interferons (IFNs) and pro-inflammatory cytokines, whenever they sense any abnormal DNA in the cells. This abnormal DNA is usually of the microorganisms (any bacteria or virus) which try to invade the cells.
How STING would help treat cancer?
In various studies, scientists have mentioned that STING promotes anti-tumour immunity. Usually, STING activates in the presence of an abnormal DNA in the blood. But the problem is that this DNA does not stay in the blood for long, so the activation of STING is short-lived.
Recently, scientists at Scripps Research claimed that they have found a set of small diverse molecules which can help in the activation of STING.
Dr Luke L Lairson along with his fellow researchers developed a STING-activator, called SR-717, which activated the STING protein in the same way as its natural activators in the body. When the scientists used x-ray crystallography to view the interaction of the activator on cellular levels, they found that both SR-717 and a natural activator bind to the same site on the STING protein.
Both these synthetic and natural activators produced the same change in the shape of the protein.
The scientists further tested SR-717 on a group of mice with aggressive melanoma who were given the STING-activator orally. The results showed that SR-717 suppressed the growth of the tumour, prevented its spread in the body (metastasis) and also boosted the immune system’s anti-tumour defences which include CD8+ T cells and natural killer cells.
The scientists are still studying the STING-activator to form a new anti-cancer treatment which can either be used alone or in combination with other treatment options.
Furthermore, scientists believe that with the use of a systemic STING-activating molecule, scientists would not only be able to use it for the treatment of cancer and other infectious diseases but would also allow the researchers to study more about the STING-dependent anti-tumour immunity.
For more information, read our article on Cancer.
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