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article imageDevising biological sensors to kill a range of cancer cells

By Tim Sandle     Feb 5, 2016 in Science
Scientists are investigating the use of biological sensors to trigger the body's own immune cells to seek out, locate and destroy a range of different cancerous cells.
Cancerous cells are often adept at avoiding detection by the human body's immune system. There are several reasons for this. One common reason is that when normal body cells experience a problem, such as an invasive microorganism, they use a protein sensor to signal to the body's immune system. Cancerous cells appear to lack this sensor. Another means is where cancer cells produce a protein that effectively shuts down the immune system in areas of the body where the cancer is forming.
What if this "deactivation" of the immune system could be overcome? This is a question that has intrigued Professor Wendell A. Lim, Ph.D., who is based at University of California San Francisco. The professor has been examining biological sensors that have the potential to form “logic gates” inside cells of the immune system. This would provide the immune cells with the capability to detect, attach to and destroy a wide range of cancer cells. At the same time, healthy body tissue would remain safe. The sensors are described as synNotch receptors.
The biological sensor is an engineered version of a naturally occurring receptor called Notch (hence "synNotch.") Here the researchers switched certain Notch functions for those of different biological ability, to work against cancerous cells and designed to recognize an antigen found on tumors.
The research into the biological sensors has been published in a paper submitted to the journal Cancer Discovery. The paper is titled "Dual Activation of Engineered T Cells Allows for Precise Tumor Killing."
Readers who found this article of interest may be interested in reading Digital Journal's Essential Science column, which considers the point of origin of cancer.
More about Cancer, Cancer cells, biological sensors, Immune System
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