Immunotherapy for lung cancer and mesothelioma has taken the spotlight recently for treating the aggressive, insidious cancers. Survival for some patients treated with these therapies designed to kick the immune system back into gear has been improved, but still others remain unfazed by the treatment. Now, researchers report they have found a way to “spur” certain immunotherapy treatments into action with nanoparticles.
A team of researchers from the University of Chicago set out to enhance the effectiveness of checkpoint blockade immunotherapy that has proven ineffective against some colon and lung cancers. Focusing on “intractable metastatic cancers,” or untreatable cancers, the researchers found that through a “complex interplay of immune-stimulating nanoparticles” they were able to stimulate T-cells, leading to cancer death.
Cancer is tricky and can evade detection by T-cells, which hunt down and kill intruder cells. As cancer cells proliferate they basically overwhelm the immune system leading to it to become suppressed. But checkpoint blockade immunotherapy flips the immune system back on allowing the t-cells to get back to work. Except, according to the researchers, in the case of older tumors there are no more t-cells left to fight.
The team developed a drug cocktail and loaded it into a nanoparticle surrounded by a photosensitizing agent that generates cancer-killing molecules when it is lit up. The same cocktail also activated the T-cells to fight the cancer. This approach, the researchers report, packed “a triple punch.”
“Everybody out there working in the cancer space is trying to figure out ways to enhance checkpoint blockade immunotherapy,” said Wenbin Lin, the James Franck Professor in Chemistry and one of the scientists who conceived the new therapy. “In this work, we were able to achieve that.”
Mesothelioma is a cancer that can take years, decades even, to grow and become a deadly cancer. Although the researchers did not look at the asbestos-caused cancer, increasing the effectiveness of immunotherapy in lung cancer patients will also benefit mesothelioma patients and can lead to another treatment option them.
“So what we’re trying to do is to come up with ways to recruit T-cells to the tumor, and if you have a way to make the T-cells recognize cancer cells, the T-cell will be able to kill the cancer cells,” said Lin.
Read the full report in the Aug. 17 issue of Nature Communications.