Harnessing the body's own defense forces to fight cancer with nanoscale technology.

In the myriad advances in treating cancer, many a nanotech study has crossed DailyTech’s path. This week another such study was revealed by the journal Nature Medicine (abstract). In the past, we’ve seen all sorts of man-made nanoparticles both acting as a force of cell destruction and as a ferry, shipping anti-tumor drugs straight to cancer cells where they can be of the most benefit. This latest method by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers is akin to the latter, but instead of using nanoparticles to deliver drugs, they deliver modified immune cells from the patient’s own body.

Dr. Darrell Irvine, the team leader for the MIT study, spoke optimistically of the new treatment. “What we're looking for is the extra nudge that could take immune-cell therapy from working in a subset of people to working in nearly all patients, and to take us closer to cures of disease rather than slowing progression.”

The process by which the treatment is administered seems straightforward. T cells, a type of white blood cell which is involved in cell-mediated immunity, are harvested from the patient’s blood. They are then treated in such a way so that they specifically target cancer cells. The new T cells are then attached to a lipid-based nanoparticle filled with interleukins. Interleukins are a type of chemical that helps promote the growth of T cells. Finally, the T cell and interleukin-laden nanoparticles are injected back into the patient, where the T cells seek out the tumors they’ve been programmed to destroy. The interleukins help maintain a healthy T cell count to combat the cancer cells directly without causing aberrant production elsewhere in the body.

The final part here is important. Interleukin treatments have already been widely tested in cancer patients to promote cancer-fighting T cell growth, but the treatments can have devastating side effects including heart and lung failure. The targeted approach used by Irvine’s group holds the runaway T cell production process in check by only allowing those at the tumor’s area to be affected.

In a trial using mice, the treatment was found to be 100% effective. While standard T cell or T cell and interleukin treatment mice died after 75 days, the control mice died after only 25 days and the mice given the nanoparticle treatment lived on past the 100 day limit of the study.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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