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UMD Researcher Helps Arm the Immune System to Fight Cancer
Date:1/7/2014

uraging T cells to multiply and become central memory T cells specific for tumor antigens.

Jewell, a member of UMD's Fischell Department of Bioengineering, is an expert in immunomodulation, an emerging field that explores directing the body's immune system response to target a specific disease. He believes crafting a biomaterials-based vaccine that not only provides T cells with the weapons to fight neuroblastoma, but also instructions on how, will give oncologists a new, more specific treatment option that relies more on the patient's own defenses than radiation and chemotherapy.

Creating any successful vaccine is difficult. Once injected, its components are dispersed around the body. Just a fraction of the vaccine reaches the lymph nodes, and its components are often so damaged or degraded by the trip they're no longer functional. Engineered microparticle and nanoparticle vaccines face additional challenges, because they are either too large to drain into lymph nodes or become too large because they stick to cells, proteins, or other particles.

Jewell's research group is developing a unique system in which controlled-release, biodegradable polymer "depots" are injected directly into the lymph nodes. The depots protect the vaccine components inside, control when they are released, and direct what happens next.

The vaccine contains two elements: the antigen that stimulates the T cells to attack neuroblastoma cells, and "immune signals," small molecules that mimic the chemical signals immune cells use to communicate. The message, like the antigen, is another call to action: transform into central memory T cells, and multiply. Jewell hopes this approach will result in an army of central memory T cells prepared to destroy neuroblastoma tumors and capable of "remembering the enemy" later.

The cells' mission continues after the existing tumors are cleared. "Establishing these large populations of immunological memory cells could al
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SOURCE A. James Clark School of Engineering
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