Nanoparticles reprogram immune cells to fight cancer

Dr. Matthias Stephan has a bold vision. He imagines a future where patients with leukemia could be treated as early as the day they are diagnosed with cellular immunotherapy that’s available in their neighborhood clinic and is as simple to administer as today’s chemotherapy, but without the harsh side effects. The key to that scientific leap? Nanoparticles, tiny technology that’s able to carry tumor-targeting genes directly to immune cells still within the body and program them to destroy cancer. In a proof-of-principle study published Monday in Nature Nanotechnology, Stephan and other researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed that nanoparticle-programmed immune cells, known as T cells, can clear or slow the progression of leukemia in a preclinical model.

nanoparticles reprogram genes

“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 Stephan, the study’s senior author. Although his method for programming T cells is still several steps away from the clinic, Stephan envisions a future in which biodegradable nanoparticles could transform cell-based immunotherapies — whether for cancer or infectious disease — into an easily administered, off-the-shelf treatment that’s available anywhere.

Stephan imagines that in the future, nanoparticle-based immunotherapy could be “something that is available right away and can hopefully out-compete chemotherapies. That’s my excitement.”


Stealth Nanoparticles Vaccines To Attack Cancer

Cancer vaccines have recently emerged as a promising approach for killing tumor cells before they spread. But so far, most clinical candidates haven’t worked that well. Now, scientists from Department of Immuno-Gene Therapy, Mie University – Japan – have developed a new way to deliver vaccines that successfully stifled tumor growth when tested in laboratory mice. And the key, they report in the journal ACS Nano, is in the vaccine’s unique stealthy nanoparticles. Hiroshi Shiku, Naozumi Harada and colleagues explain that most cancer vaccine candidates are designed to flag down immune cells, called macrophages and dendritic cells, that signal “killerT cells to attack tumors.

immuneCellsGetting immune cells (blue) to kill cancer cells (yellow) could require a stealthy approach.
The problem is that approaches based on targeting these generally circulating immune cells have not been very successful. But recent research has suggested that a subset of macrophages only found deep inside lymph nodes could play a major role in slowing cancer. But how could one get a vaccine to these special immune cells without first being gobbled up by the macrophages and dendritic cells circulating in the body? Shiku’s team wanted to see if stealthy nanoparticles they had developed and clinically tested in patients might hold the answer.