Researchers from National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) have discovered that neutrophils, the most abundant cells of the innate immune system, have many more functions in the body than previously thought. This finding, driven by the ‘La Caixa’ Foundation, opens up new therapeutic possibilities for the treatment of multiple diseases such as cancer.

In a study published in the journal ‘Cell‘, the researchers show that neutrophils acquire new characteristics when they enter tissues. These features help to maintain the vital functions of the organs.

They create a vaccine to prevent lung, intestine and pancreas cancer

“The lymphocytes produce specific antibodies against viruses or bacteria to develop immunity to these pathogens. The immune system cells innate, however, they provide us with a rapid but nonspecific response that, on occasions, can provoke an uncontrolled inflammatory response, such as that observed in the lungs of seriously ill patients with Covid-19 ”, highlighted Dr. Andrés Hidalgo, leader of the research .

The bone marrow manufactures huge amounts of neutrophils every day and, from there, they reach the blood and are distributed to practically all tissues of the human body. These cells have a very short life, less than 24 hours, so it has always been thought that their ability to adapt and acquire new functions was very limited.

But the study shows that the incorporation of these blood cells into tissues causes acquire unknown properties previously. “The fascinating thing is that each organ seems to acquire functions that are useful for that particular tissue. For example, in the lung case, we have seen that neutrophils obtain the ability to help in the formation of blood vessels, while in the skin they could favor the integrity of the skin epithelium.

Is plasticity to produce changes in the properties of cells has been identified in healthy individuals, which suggests that these leukocytes participate in a wide variety of normal functions in our body, and that they are not only limited to fighting infections “, added the doctor. Gentleman.

The innate immune system has always been seen as a set of cells with stereotyped and nonspecific responses, but in recent years some research has shown that these leukocytes actually have a very high specificity at the cellular level and functional. “Something particularly exciting is that if we can decipher the mechanisms that control the function of these cells, we can develop new therapies to exploit their plasticity for our own benefit,” said Iván Ballesteros, lead author of the study.

In the case of CancerFor example, tumors need to form new blood vessels to grow. For slow tumor development It is necessary to identify how tumors affect the plasticity of the immune system to promote the formation of these vessels. “Our results,” said Ballesteros, “suggest that immune plasticity mechanisms in neutrophils exist independently of the presence of disease, so they must also have a beneficial function that is sometimes truncated in pathological contexts.”