Using genetic modification, scientists can control immune cells to kill cancer

A less invasive, more powerful treatment for cancer could be on the horizon.

A Science Enthusiast

From the idea that your own body is working to kill itself to the treatments currently available, there’s absolutely nothing good about cancer. But a new treatment using your body’s own modified immune cells shows an area of promise in cancer treatments, meaning cancer survivors would possibly have fewer long-term side effects as a result of using their own immune system.

Medical News Today explains:

By engineering cancer-killing T cells that can be manipulated noninvasively by remote control, researchers have added a potentially powerful feature to an already promising type of immunotherapy known as CAR T cell therapy.

A report on the study, led by the  (UCSD), is due to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Immunotherapy, a relatively new approach to fighting cancer, manipulates and strengthens the patient’s own immune system to eliminate tumors.

One type of immunotherapy that isemerging rapidlyis chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR T cell) therapy.

In CAR T cell therapy, immune cells called T cells are taken from a person and genetically modified in the laboratory so that they can recognize and kill cancer cells more effectively. The engineered cells are then multiplied and put back into the person.

Designed to kill cancer cells

The genetically modified part of the T cell is the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). It contains various synthetic elements, including one that can recognize unique features of tumor cells known as tumor-associated antigens, and another that activates the T cell to kill the target.

As new generations of CAR T cell therapy have been developed, the CAR has become increasingly sophisticated and acquired more features, including some that boost the anti-tumor power and persistence of the modified T cells.

Two CAR T cell therapies have recently been approved in the United States: one for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children, and another for the treatment of advanced lymphoma in adults.

However, there are now concerns surrounding whether this type of immunotherapy can be used effectively to treat cancers with solid tumors, such as those of the breast and colon.

One concern is whether or not the engineered T cells can be made powerful enough to overcome the resistance that the microenvironment inside a solid tumor has to immune responses.

Renier J. Brentjens, a medical oncologist and an early pioneer of CAR T cell therapy, says that what is needed is a “super T cell.”

He and his team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, NY, are working on a solution to the microenvironment resistance problem that they call an “armored CAR T cell.”

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