CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Clinical trials using patients' own immune cells to target tumors have yielded promising results. However, this approach usually works only if the patients also receive large doses of drugs designed to help immune cells multiply rapidly, and those drugs have life-threatening side effects.
Now a team of MIT engineers has devised a way to deliver the necessary drugs by smuggling them on the backs of the cells sent in to fight the tumor. That way, the drugs reach only their intended targets, greatly reducing the risk to the patient.
The new approach could dramatically improve the success rate of immune-cell therapies, which hold promise for treating many types of cancer, says Darrell Irvine, senior author of a paper describing the technique in the Aug. 15 issue of Nature Medicine.
"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," says Irvine, associate professor of biological engineering and materials science and engineering and a member of MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
The new method could also be used to deliver other types of cancer drugs or to promote blood-cell maturation in bone-marrow transplant recipients, according to the researchers.
To perform immune-cell therapy, doctors remove a type of immune cells called T cells from the patient, engineer them to target the tumor, and inject them back into the patient. Those T cells then hunt down and destroy tumor cells. Clinical trials are under way for ovarian and prostate cancers, as well as melanoma.
Although immune-cell therapy is a promising approach to treating cancer, success has been limited by difficulties in generating enough T cells that are specific to the cancer cells and getting those T cells to function properly in
|Contact: Jennifer Hirsch|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology