With a background in both immunology and cancer biology, I’ve always had a fascination with the interplay between the body’s immune system and any tumors that might pop up. Originally, it made sense that the immune system would actively seek out and destroy cancerous cells, but the emerging consensus is that the interactions between cancers and host immunity is far more complex. In addition to growing new blood vessels and reprogramming metabolic processes, there appears to be some imbalance between avoiding immune cells while also promoting tumor-infiltrating inflammatory cells to promote its growth. 1 (Figure 1) Trying to dissect this apparent contradictory relationship between tumors and host immunity remains a hot topic.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine was awarded jointly to David Julius, of the University of California at San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian, a neuroscience researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Working independently, Julius and Patapoutian discovered the key receptors (TRPV1, TRPM8, Piezo1, and Piezo2) in our bodies that sense heat, cold, and touch. Their work not only helps us to understand how we perceive and adapt to the surrounding world, but also paves the way for drug discoveries that target a wide range of diseases, including chronic pain, respiratory disease, and cancer.
Cancer remains one of the most prevalent and deadly diseases affecting humanity. According to the Centers For Disease Control, cancer was the second leading cause of death in 2020 for Americans behind heart disease. The American Cancer Society projects at least 600,000 deaths due to cancer each year, despite the fact that mortality continues to decrease each year. The majority of these deaths are from advanced cancer, which are cancers that do not respond well to treatment and therefore cannot be cured. It is when the advanced cancer progresses to a point where it can escape the primary tumor site, a process known as metastasis, that the prognosis becomes grim.