The human immune system usually attacks and destroys most foreign agents that cause disease, such as viruses. It even attacks transplanted organs. But they leave cancers alone. This is because they’re covered with a protein called CD47, which basically acts as a “don’t eat me” signal for the killer cells of the human immune system. Human blood cells are naturally covered with this protein (or your immune system will destroy your own blood).
Unfortunately, cancer cells too, are covered with this protein, sometimes even more so than normal cells. If fact, it is now believed that measuring the amount of CD47 in a person’s cancer cells can lead to a new, more accurate way for predicting his survival odds.
But the really exciting news is that scientists from the Stanford School of Medicine have discovered that blocking this protein in cancer cells causes the immune system to attack the cancer. In trials using human cancers transplanted into mice, the new treatment was successful in treating a wide variety of cancers with up to 90% effectiveness in some cases. Human trials may begin soon.