Boston researchers re-engineer cancer cells to fight off 'their own kind'

Blue purple pink 3d rendering of brain

Engineered cancer cells may be able to home in on tumors in hard-to-reach places like the brain

If this technique sounds generally familiar, it's because a pair of therapies from drug giants Novartis and Gilead called Kymriah and Yescarta, part of a new class known as CAR-T, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a year ago.

Biopharma is a fast-growing world where big ideas come along every day. In fact, study lead Khalid Shah, MS, PHD, and his team are planning to create a start-up that focuses on turning cancer cells into the tumors' own killers. In this study, the team labeled the DNA inside cancer cells with green fluorescent protein (GFP), which can transfer energy to doxorubicin - which is intrinsically light-sensitive - when it is sufficiently close by. Scientists took advantage of this trait to use CRISPR-engineered cells to turn against their own kind. The process utilizes electrical fields instead of viruses to insert DNA to make the cells permeable, speeding up the process significantly. The researchers believe this approach could help combat one of the biggest challenges in cancer care, which is to treat tumors in hard-to-reach places.

To test both approaches, the team used mouse models of primary and recurrent brain cancer and breast cancer that has spread to the brain. The team tested these assassin cells on three types of tumors: primary glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer; recurrent glioblastoma, where cancer that was treated became immune to chemotherapy; and breast cancer that had metastasized to the brain. The treatments also extended the lives of the animals. The specially engineered tumor cells were made with a "kill switch' that would kill them after they presumably killed the tumor".

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College London have developed a way to measure and visualize drug-target engagement of individual cells within in a tumor, using a miniature fluorescent microscope.

"If we know that a specific cancer drug isn't reaching all of the cells within a tumor, it might be that we need to find ways to improve drug delivery throughout the whole tumor".

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco have found a way to edit genomes, a method they say could revolutionize treatments for cancer, infections like HIV and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The researchers envision that the therapy could be translated to people by removing patients' tumors, engineering the cancer cells outside the body and then readministering the cells via a route that would depend on the type of the cancer and what stage it's in, they wrote.

Shah said up to 80 percent of mice survived their cancers after receiving the cell treatments. "These cells would result in killing of residual, invasive, and metastatic tumor deposits with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes".

Latest News