NOV 14, 2018 4:00 PM PST

Rapid Tumor Targeting

WRITTEN BY: Nicholas Breehl

Cancer, a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells, continues to be one of the most devastating diseases. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death. To treat cancer, several therapies have come to light. Researchers at the University of California Irvine have developed a technology that promotes the use of adoptive T cell therapy by reducing development time, increasing specificity and reducing the cost associated with its development.

About 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2018. Around 609,640 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2018, equating to approximately 1,670 deaths per day. Adoptive T cell transfer, specifically T cell receptor T cell therapy, holds promise for cancer immunotherapy with encouraging clinical results. The real issue with TCR T cell therapy, however, is that finding a TCR T cell clone is a tedious, time-consuming, and costly task.

Adoptive T cell therapy involves the isolation and ex vivo (outside of the body) of tumor-specific T cells to achieve a greater number of T cells. The tumor-specific T cells are then infused back into cancer patients in an attempt to kill cancer cells.  There are many forms of adoptive T cell therapy being used for cancer treatment; culturing tumor infiltrating lymphocytes or TIL, isolating and expanding one particular T cell or clone, and even using T cells that have been engineered to recognize and attack tumors potently. 

"This technology is particularly exciting because it dismantles major challenges in cancer treatments," said Zhao, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences who is affiliated with the Chao Family Comprehensive Center and the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. "This use of droplet microfluidics screening significantly reduces the cost of making new cancer immunotherapies that are associated with less systemic side effects than standard chemotherapy drugs, and vastly speeds up the timeframe for treatment."

One giant hurdle for adoptive T cell therapy is the identification of particular T cell receptors that will match to the cancer antigen in a pool of millions of other antigens. It can take up to one year to locate a match in which time the cost can amount to around half a million dollars.

Zhao and his research team created a technology that incorporated oil-water droplets allowing cancer cells to match with individual T cells. The TCRs that bind with the cancer cell’s antigens can be sorted and identified within only a few days.

Zhao and his fellow researchers at the University of California Irvine hope their technology will aid in the further developing adoptive T cell therapies for cancer patients.

Sources: Lab on a Chip, Science Daily, American Cancer Society, University of Washington, YouTube

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