Cancer could be cured with ‘seek and destroy’ immune cell treatment

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Cancer scientists are experimenting with ‘seek and destroy’ immune cells to shrink tumours (Shutterstock)

Cancer could be cured with ‘seek and destroy’ immune cells taken from a patient’s own tumour.

In experiments on mice, growths dramatically shrank – or completely disappeared.

The technique could revolutionise personalised therapy.

A 3D printed device harvests and sorts hundreds of millions of cells – increasing the number of ‘tumour-eaters’ fivefold.

Corresponding author Professor Shana Kelley, of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, said: “People have been cured in the clinic of advanced melanoma through treatment with their own immune cells that were harvested out of tumour tissue.

‘The problem is, because of the way the cells are harvested, it only works in a very small number of patients.’

Most cancer drugs involve toxic chemicals and foreign substances – causing harmful side effects and weakening natural defences.

Using tissue from one’s own body eliminates the risks.

Cancer cells attacking healthy human cell 3d render.
A 3D render of cancer cells attacking a healthy human cell (Credits: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The study in Nature Biomedical Engineering focused on immune cells called TILs (tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes).

They invade cancerous tissue by engaging in a ‘form of hand-to-hand combat’, said Prof Kelley.

She likened it to ‘someone using insecticide on a weed’. But previous researchers have been armed with a half-expired cannister of chemicals.

Therapies in clinics today use a mixture of ‘exhausted’ and ‘naive’ cells to treat tumours.

They are grown in labs far away from the patients they were collected from.

By the time they have multiplied and are ready to be placed back in the body, many are unable to fight – having been in the tumour for too long.

Prof Kelley and colleagues turned to a state-of-the-art technology called MATIC (microfluidic affinity targeting of infiltrating cells).

It enabled them to identify the most active – described as the ‘Golidlocks population’.

Survival rates in the rodents soared compared to traditional methods of TIL recovery.

Undated handout photo issued by Northwestern University of mice treated with novel approach to cell therapy saw dramatic shrinkage in tumors compared to those treated with traditional cell therapy approaches. Researchers have developed a new tool to harness tumour-eating cells to fight cancer quickly and effectively. A new study showed dramatic shrinkage in tumours in mice compared to traditional cell therapy methods that improve the immune system's ability to fight cancer. Issue date: Thursday January 27, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SCIENCE Tumours. Photo credit should read: Shana Kelley Lab/Northwestern University/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Mice treated with novel approach to cell therapy saw dramatic shrinkage in tumors compared to those treated with traditional cell therapy approaches. (Credits: PA)

Prof Kelley said: ‘Instead of giving mice this mixture of cells with different phenotypes, we are giving them the one cell phenotype that can actually help them.

‘You see much more potency and a much higher response rate when you really home in on the sweet spot of T cell reactivity.’

It would be feasible to bring the 3D-printed device into hospital settings, she said.

Getting cell therapy closer to patients would slash research and development costs and ultimately deliver the treatment to more people.

She is now using the tool to search for the same types of TILs in blood samples.

This would eliminate the need for surgery to remove a small piece of tumour prior to this form of treatment.

Prof Kelley has launched a small company to commercialise it.

She said: ‘When we take on the development of a new technology, we typically end up with a hammer, and then need to go find a nail.

‘We got introduced to problems in cell therapy, and it was immediately apparent that this was a perfect fit.’

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