By Annette Pinder
Just in time for the holiday rush, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has an important message for us all: Slow down, breathe, and do whatever you can to calm down, because the stress we create in our lives does us no good. In fact, your health and your life may depend on reducing your level of stress. Recently, Roswell Park researchers identified an important mechanism by which chronic stress weakens immunity and promotes tumor growth.
The Roswell researchers’ findings, published in Cell Reports, point to the beta-adrenergic receptor (β-AR) as a driver of immune suppression and cancer growth in response to stress. The discovery creates the possibility of targeting this receptor in preventing and treating cancer. The team was led by Hemn Mohammadpour, PhD, DVM, a postdoctoral research affiliate in the lab of Elizabeth Repasky, PhD, and Dr. Repasky, co-leader of the Cell Stress and Biophysical Therapies Program, and Dr. William Huebsch, Professor in Immunology at Roswell Park. Using a preclinical model of triple-negative breast cancer, the team found that as tumors grow, they become more sensitive to stress signals coming from the nervous system.
The researchers say the findings will help them better understand why prolonged exposure to stress often makes our immune system less effective. “This study provides some very important clues that help explain the specific mechanisms by which prolonged stress stimulates tumor growth and decreases lifespan,” said Dr. Mohammadpour.
While there has been a longstanding recognition that long periods of stress, or chronic activation of nerves, are harmful to overall health, details about how this occurs are unclear, especially with regard to cancer. A better understanding of the specific ways in which stress influences cancer, particularly in terms of lowering immunity against tumor cells, could be used to design new drugs or therapies that can help to minimize negative effects of chronic stress and boost cancer immunotherapy.
Dr. Repasky’s team is planning new clinical and laboratory studies to identify therapies that can block these harmful stress signals and stop the negative cycle of cancer growth and metastasis. Dr. Mohammadpour said, “This is especially important for cancer patients, who frequently endure greatly increased levels of stress after their diagnosis, including anxiety, depression, and worry about factors such as finances and family interactions.”
Several clinical trials are now planned or underway to investigate which interventions are most effective at mitigating the effects of stress in patients with cancer.
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a community united by the drive to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity by unlocking its secrets through personalized approaches and unleashing the healing power of hope. Founded by Dr. Roswell Park in 1898, it is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at www.roswellpark.org, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or ASKRoswell@RoswellPark.org.