Supplemental oxygen or otherwise known as oxygen therapy is the phenomenon where oxygen is used for medical treatments. This can include low blood oxygen, carbon monoxide toxicity, cluster headaches, and to maintain enough oxygen while inhaled anesthetics are given. Supplemental oxygen can be given in a number of ways including a nasal cannula, face mask, and inside a hyperbaric chamber.
Presently, a handful of researchers at Northeastern University have given a new insight into the usage of supplemental oxygen. Their reports have found that inhaling supplemental oxygen—40 to 60 percent oxygen as opposed to the 21 percent oxygen in the air—can weaken immunosuppression and awaken anti-tumour cells. This modern approach, some 30 years in the making, could dramatically increase the survival rate of patients with cancer, which kills some 8 million people each year. Their spectacular findings were published in Science Translational Medicine.
Michail Sitkovsky, an immunophysiology researcher at Northeastern University and his team found that supplemental oxygenation inhibits the hypoxia-driven accumulation of adenosine in the tumour microenvironment and weakens immunosuppression. This, in turn, could improve cancer immunotherapy and shrink tumours by unleashing anti-tumour T lymphocytes and natural killer cells.
“Breathing supplemental oxygen opens up the gates of the tumour fortress and wakes up ‘sleepy’ anti-tumour cells, enabling these soldiers to enter the fortress and destroy it,” explained Sitkovsky, the Eleanor W. Black Chair and Professor of Immunophysiology and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the founding director of the university’s New England Inflammation and Tissue Protection Institute. “However, if anti-tumour immune cells are not present, oxygen will have no impact.”
In the early 2000s, Sitkovsky made an important discovery in immunology, which has played a tremendous part in his research in cancer biology. He found that a receptor on the surface of immune cells—the A2A adenosine receptor is responsible for preventing T-cells from invading tumours and for “putting to sleep” those killer cells that do manage to enter into the tumours.
His latest work shows that supplemental oxygen weakened tumour-protecting signaling through the A2A adenosine receptor and wakes up the T-cells that were able to invade lung tumour.
“This discovery shifts the paradigm of decades long drug development, a process with a low success rate,” Sitkovsy said. “Indeed, it is promising that our method could be implemented relatively quickly by testing in clinical trials the effects of oxygenation in combination with different types of already existing immunotherapies of cancer.”
It was also noted that the effects of supplemental oxygenation might be even stronger in combination with a synthetic agent that Sitkovsy calls “super-caffeine,” which is known to block the tumour-protecting effects of the adenosine receptor.
“The anti-tumour effects of supplemental oxygen can be further improved by the natural antagonist of the A2A adenosine receptor, which happens to be the caffeine in your coffee,” Sitkovsky said. “People drink coffee because caffeine prevents the A2A adenosine receptor in the brain from putting us to sleep.”
Hopefully, this diligent research will work on its abilities and cure cancer throughout the world as Sitkovsy and his team have dreamt of.