Nibbling Cancer Away

Imagine a meal even Ms. Pacman can’t swallow whole! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Macrophages are large immune cells with an even LARGER appetite – they’re known for swallowing bacteria whole! 

Ramraj Velmurugan from Texas A&M University and colleagues wondered – just how big can these Big Gulp-ers go? Big enough to swallow CANCER cells?. 

Macrophages connect to markers on a cell’s surface called antibodies before they swallow things up. So the researchers tagged cancer cells with specific antibodies and saw the macrophages latch on. Then they watched a feast unfold!

Results? The macrophages couldn’t always gobble up the big cancer cells whole. Instead, some of them just NIBBLED! And they kept nibbling until their cancer cell meal died! No big bites necessary! 

Until recently, this cancer-killing ability wasn’t known for certain. Researchers could never tell what was INSIDE the macrophage after a cancer cell meal. Small bites or digested whole cancer cell? Now they know!

And that could help scientists turn more of these nibbling immune cells into cancer killers. 

Still hungry, macrophages? Just SUPER-size it!

Reference: Velmurugan, R., Challa, D. K., Ram, S., Ober, R. J., & Ward, E. S. (2016). Macrophage-Mediated Trogocytosis Leads to Death of Antibody-Opsonized Tumor Cells. Molecular cancer therapeutics, 15(8), 1879–1889.