Re-Programming Your Body to Fight Cancer

What if we could re-program immune cells in your body to recognize, seek out and destroy cancer cells?

Now what we could do all that genetic re-programming by injecting tiny robots into your system, and not have even have to remove one cell from your body?

We're very close. A team of scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have developed biodegradable nanoparticles that can rapidly clear or slow the progression of leukemia in a mouse model.

"Our technology is the first that we know of to quickly program tumor-recognizing capabilities into T cells without extracting them for laboratory manipulation," said Fred Hutch's Dr. Matthias Stephan, the study's senior author. "The reprogrammed cells begin to work within 24 to 48 hours and continue to produce these receptors for weeks. This suggests that our technology has the potential to allow the immune system to quickly mount a strong enough response to destroy cancerous cells before the disease becomes fatal."

Cellular immunotherapy has shown itself to be extremely promising in numerous clinical trials. The problems were all about speed: It takes too long – a couple of weeks – to remove the T-cells from the patient, genetically engineer them into cancer-killers, grow enough of them to have an impact, and finally infuse them back into the patient. The use of the nanoparticles cut down on both time and expense; the laborious, time-consuming T-cell programming steps all take place within the body, creating a potential army of "serial killers" within days.

"I've never had cancer, but if I did get a cancer diagnosis I would want to start treatment right away," Stephan said. "I want to make cellular immunotherapy a treatment option the day of diagnosis and have it able to be done in an outpatient setting near where people live."

The scientists designed the tiny 'bots to carry genes that encode for “chimeric antigen receptors“ that target and eliminate cancer. They also tagged the nanoparticles with molecules that make them stick like burrs to T cells, which engulf the nanoparticles. The cell's owninternal traffic system then directs the nanoparticle to the nucleus. When it is finished, it dissolves: the nanoparticles are bio-degradable.

The research has been published in Nature Nanotechnology.