The new technology comes from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and it is based on the medical evidence that, following radiation treatment, dying cancer cells produce mutated proteins, which pass into the human body. The body’s immune that system can track the proteins and then destroy cancer found in other parts of the body by using the protein as a marker (since the mutated proteins are presented to the immune system as a foreign objects). This is called the “abscopal effect,” where experiences tumor shrinkage outside of the primary site that was treated with radiation is observed.
The abscopal effect is a phenomenon in the treatment of metastatic cancer where localized treatment of a tumor causes not only a shrinking of the treated tumor, but also a shrinking of tumors outside the scope of the localized treatment.
To help improve the immune system’s detection of cancer proteins, the researchers have been using “sticky” nanoparticles termed “antigen-capturing nanoparticles.” Studies suggest the particles can function synergistically with immunotherapy drugs, and they will help raise the immune system’s response to cancer.
READ MORE: Breakthrough in battling bowel cancer
Speaking with Controlled Environments online, principal scientist Dr. Andrew Z. Wang said: “Our hypothesis was that if we use a nanoparticle to grab onto these cancer proteins, we’d probably get a more robust immune response to the cancer.” He adds further: “We think it works because nanoparticles are attractive to the immune system. Immune cells don’t like anything that’s nano-sized; they think they are viruses, and will respond to them.” In other words this is an intervention that help the body’s own defense system to attack the cancer.
Trials have taken place to explore the design of the nanoparticles so they can effectively capture mutated proteins released by tumors. The trials used a mouse model, where studies found 20 percent of mice that received the nanoparticle treatment had a complete response. This compared to no response from the mice at all who did not receive the nanoparticles. With the mice that showed an effective response, the researchers tracked the nanoparticles, showing how they are taken up by immune cells and trafficked to the lymph nodes.
The aim is to undertake further research to improve responses to immunotherapy drugs, as well as attempting make the responses to anti-cancer drugs last for longer. The new research is reported to the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The paper is titled “Antigen-capturing nanoparticles improve the abscopal effect and cancer immunotherapy.”