Scientist with Longford roots discovers new way to tackle cancer

Aisling Kiernan

Reporter:

Aisling Kiernan

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aisling.kiernan@longfordleader.ie

Shane Cronin

Scientist Shane Cronin's father hails from St Patrick's Terrace in Longford town.

Shane Cronin, the son of Ballyjamesduff newsagent Fintan Cronin - originally from St Patrick’s Terrace, Longford - and the late Phyllis Cronin, is a scientist who has discovered that, by activating the immune system, the body can defend itself against cancer cells and invading pathogens.

Mr Cronin's research shows that by activating the immune system with the happiness hormone Serotonin the body can fight the disease more effectively.

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The scientist, who made the discovery while working at Harvard, has published his groundbreaking paper on this novel way of activating the immune system in the journal, Nature.

“What we actually showed in the paper is that by increasing and turning up the amount of BH4, the T cells were more aggressive and able to fight cancer much more aggressively,” he told the Leader.

“This has very important clinical implications because the way we can turn BH4 down, we actually developed a brand new novel drug to do this, and also by turning it up, there's a drug already out there being used for completely different purposes.”

Meanwhile, T cells are very important immune cells which seek out and destroy cells infected with viruses or bacteria as well as abnormal cells such as cancer.

When there is cancer in the body or an infection the T cells turn on and fight the abnormal cells and keep us safe.

“Not only did I find this novel mechanism for a T cell to become active but also found two drugs which can manipulate the levels of BH4 in the T cell,” Mr Cronin continued.

“One drug we made ourselves and it is a brand new drug.

“It reduces the levels of BH4 and results in 'draining the battery' of the T cell causing them to effectively switch off - this is great to treat autoimmune diseases.

“On the other hand we also found that a drug which has been used for decades to treat another disease, can be used to increase BH4 in T cells and in this way we can supercharge T cells in conditions where cancer is present.”