An Italian study, directed and coordinated by Humanitas, funded by AIRC (Italian Association for Cancer Research) and published by the prestigious scientific journal Nature, unveils the anticancer role of IL-1R8, the new immunity brake involved in tumor development for the first time. Discovered in 1998 as a gene by the same Italian research team that today identified its anti-cancer role, IL-1R8 has demonstrated in human defense cells the action of mediator of resistance against tumors and metastases, particularly in the liver and lung, blocking its development.

“Our defense system is a bit like an extraordinary car, capable of travelling at high speed – explains Professor Alberto Mantovani, scientific director of Humanitas and lecturer at Humanitas University, corresponding author of the study with Cecilia Garlanda – To work well and not go off the road it needs accelerators, which make it start and run, as well as brakes (called checkpoints), which allow it to slow down and, when necessary, stop.

Sometimes, however, it is the tumor itself that uses these brakes to its advantage, arbitrarily, to block our defenses and grow undisturbed. The discovery and greater knowledge of immunity brakes paved the way for the idea of removing these brakes to restart our immune system’s response to cancer. This is the case of two well-known immunity brakes, CTLA4 and PD-1/PD-L1, used in immunological therapies against melanoma and other cancers, from which only a part of the patients benefit (20-40%).


Towards increasingly effective immunological weapons

The discovery of IL-1R8 paves the way for the increasingly effective use of immunological weapons against various cancers, to the benefit of an increasing number of cancer patients. “Identifying its action as a brake to the activity of our defense cells (in particular cells called Natural Killer, NK) present in specific locations such as liver and lung has allowed us to see that, by removing the brake, NK cells are activated in defense of these organs against cancer and metastasis,” explains Martina Molgora, researcher at Humanitas, PhD student at Humanitas University and first author of the study.

More than half of the authors of the study are women: the coordination of the research has been entrusted to Cecilia Garlanda, Principal Investigator of the Laboratory of Experimental Immunopathology of Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University. Among the researchers involved were Professor Angela Santoni and her team from La Sapienza University in Rome, to whom we owe important Italian discoveries on the Natural Killer cells.