A twist to traditional immunotherapies could help cancer patients’ immune systems better detect cancer cells, making this new system capable of targeting tumors that more conventional immunotherapies might miss. The research comes from scientists at Yale and was published recently in a study in Nature Immunology.
While immunotherapies have greatly broadened treatment options for many cancer patients by enabling their immune systems to fight cancer on their own, immunotherapy also has its own downfalls. Immunotherapy doesn’t work for all cancers or all individual cancer patients, and in fact, a common form of immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors are only effective in about one-third of patients. This is why continued investigation around the human immune system and its connection to cancer is crucial.
The researchers from Yale have created a new system that combines viral gene therapy and CRISPR gene-editing technology. "This is an entirely new form of immunotherapy," said senior author Sidi Chen, who is an assistant professor of genetics. The system is called Multiplexed Activation of Endogenous Genes as Immunotherapy (MAEGI).
MAEGI works like a metal-detector for cancer cells, identifying their location and later tagging them for immune destruction. By doing so, the system is able to convert cold tumors to hot tumors (cold, meaning without immune cells, and hot meaning with immune cells). Additionally, explains Chen, "Once those cells are identified, the immune system immediately recognizes them if they show up in the future.” That allows for earlier future detection.
The system was proven to work in mice with melanoma, triple-negative breast and pancreatic tumors. It was capable of either reducing or completely eradicating the tumors, no matter how close or far they were from the primary tumor.
The researchers hope that MAEGI will offer an alternative treatment option for those patients who are resistant to other immunotherapies. The team will be continuing their research to prepare for human clinical trials.
Sources: Yale, Science Daily