According to Science Daily, scientists have discovered a novel method for transforming malignant cells into powerful cancer-fighting weapons.
Khalid Shah’s team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an early member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, has created a unique cell therapy technique to remove preexisting tumors and generate long-term immunity, retraining the immune system to avoid cancer recurrence. T
he team’s dual-action, cancer-killing immunization performed well in a highly developed animal model of glioblastoma, a devastating brain disease. The findings were reported in Science Translational Medicine.
“Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines,” said Khalid Shah, MS, Ph.D., vice chair of research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Brigham, faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and corresponding author on the study (HSCI).
“We are using gene editing to repurpose cancer cells into a therapy that kills tumor cells and activates the immune system to attack original tumors and prevent cancer,” the researchers explain.
Several research institutions are investigating the prospect of cancer vaccinations, but Shah and his colleagues have chosen a different approach. Because of the unique property of live tumor cells, the team uses them instead of inactivated tumor cells. Like homing pigeons returning to the roost, living tumor cells will traverse vast distances throughout the brain to reunite with their peers.
Shah’s team exploited this characteristic by repurposing live tumor cells to release a chemical capable of killing tumor cells using the gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9. The tumor cells were engineered to release signals that would aid the immune system in recognizing and recalling them, increasing the possibility of a long-lasting anti-tumor response.
The researchers injected mice with human bone marrow, liver, and thymus cells to evaluate their repurposed CRISPR-enhanced. They reverse-engineered therapeutic tumor cells (ThTC) in an immunological system similar to humans. The Shah-led team also included a double-layered safety switch within the cancer cell that, when engaged, destroys ThTCs.
Animal tests with this dual-action cell treatment have yielded promising results, boosting expectations for its future human use. Even though additional work is needed, Shah’s team chose this technique and employed human cells to accelerate the process of turning their results into practical applications.
Dr. Shah emphasized that, while the Center’s work is very advanced, the care of patients is always the priority. Their objective is to produce a therapeutic, cancer-killing vaccine that will have far-reaching medical effects using a unique yet reproducible technique. More research is needed, according to Shah, to determine whether or if this treatment method may be extended to other forms of solid tumors.