Stanford Medicine scientists transform cancer cells into weapons against cancer
Researchers found that when they turned cancer cells into immune cells, they were able to teach other immune cells how to attack cancer.
Some cities fight gangs with ex-members who educate kids and starve gangs of new recruits. Stanford Medicine researchers have done something similar with cancer — altering cancer cells so that they teach the body’s immune system to fight the very cancer the cells came from.
“This approach could open up an entirely new therapeutic approach to treating cancer,” said Ravi Majeti, MD, PhD, a professor of hematology and the study’s senior author. The research was published March 1 in Cancer Discovery. The lead author is Miles Linde, PhD, a former PhD student in immunology who is now at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle.
Some of the most promising cancer treatments use the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer, often by taking the brakes off immune responses to cancer or by teaching the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer more vigorously. T cells, part of the immune system that learns to identify and attack new pathogens such as viruses, can be trained to recognize specific cancer antigens, which are proteins that generate an immune response.
For instance, in CAR T-cell therapy, T cells are taken from a patient, programmed to recognize a specific cancer antigen, then returned to the patient. But there are many cancer antigens, and physicians sometimes need to guess which ones will be most potent.
Like an immune response
A better approach would be to train T cells to recognize cancer via processes that more closely mimic the way things naturally occur in the body — like the way a vaccine teaches the immune system to recognize pathogens. T cells learn to recognize pathogens because special antigen presenting cells (APCs) gather pieces of the pathogen and show them to the T cells in a way that tells the T cells, “Here is what the pathogen looks like — go get it.”
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