A new study titled "Voluntary Running Suppresses Tumor Growth through Epinephrine – and IL-6-Dependent NK Cell Mobilization and Redistribution" and published in the journal Cell Metabolism suggests that active exercises could be beneficial in slowing down the spread of cancer cells in patients.
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This is already proven in lab mice, but more remains to be done to prove this fact in human patients.
Researchers found that mice placed on a running wheel had their tumors shrink 50% unlike others in a control group who were not subjected to exercises such as running. The researchers observed that running made the rats to experience a surge in adrenaline release which helped to move cancer-killing immune (NK) cells towards lung, liver, or skin tumors implanted into the mice.
"It is known that infiltration of natural killer (NK) immune cells can control and regulate the size of tumors, but nobody had looked at how exercise regulates the system," said senior study author Pernille Hojman, at the University of Copenhagen.
"In our experiments, we tried to inject our mice with adrenaline to mimic this increase you see during exercise, and when we do that we see that the NK cells are mobilized to the bloodstream, and if there's a tumor present then the NK cells will find the tumor and home to it," Hojman added.
In order to determine that the surge in NK cells at the site of cancer tumor helped to reduce the size of the tumor, the researchers ran a control experiment by examining rats deprived of NK cells. The scientists found that despite the normal exercise, lack of NK cells, and a full suite of other immune cells, the rats experienced normal cancer growth rate.
The team later observed that IL-6, an immune signaling molecule, served as the link between adrenaline-dependent gathering of NK cells and their abilities to penetrate tumor. IL-6 is released from muscle tissue when an individual performs a rigorous exercise, and the research team showed that adrenaline signals IL-6 sensitve NK cells with molecules that direct the immune cells to the site of the tumors.
According to Hojman, the team was both surprised and elated to find through the study that exercise-induced IL-6 plays a significant role in directing NK cells to tumors while also activating those cells to act in shrinking the tumors. The team is now concerned with the full impacts of combining cancer treatments and exercises on patients.
Since cancer patients always want to know how much exercise they can do, Hojman revealed that "While it has previously been difficult to advise people about the intensity at which they should exercise, our data suggest that it might be beneficial to exercise at a somewhat high intensity in order to provoke a good epinephrine surge and hence recruitment of NK cells."
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The study was supported by the Danish National Research Foundation, TrygFonden, the Danish Medical Research Council, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Lundbeck Foundation, the Danish Cancer Society, and the Aase og Ejnar Danielsen Foundation.