DEC 29, 2016 2:10 PM PST

Nanodiscs Carry and Deliver Customized Cancer Treatments

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Nanodiscs just 10 nanometers wide successfully delivered customized cancer treatments to mice with colon and melanoma tumors. Next, scientists are looking for larger studies to investigate the drug’s effectiveness in larger animals.

Artistic representation of a nanodisc. Source: blenderartists.org

From the University of Michigan, scientists designed the tiny discs to carry information to fine-tune T cells to the key needed to target tumors. T cells are key lymphocytes of the immune system that target and attack all kinds of cells that harm the body: viruses, bacteria, protozoa, cancer, and more. Tumors often have unique mutations that help them evade the immune system, even cancers of the same type could have completely different mutations. This ability makes the possibility of a “one size fits all” cancer treatment very unlikely.

Fortunately, the chance to personalize cancer treatment is within the grasp of science, and the current nanodisc technology is the first step. The nanodiscs are made of microscopic lipoproteins, synthetic in nature, and before injection they are loaded with the tumor neoantigens the T cells will need in order to target one patient’s particular tumor type.

Once the vaccine is delivered, T cells are reprogrammed to recognize these unique mutations, which helps them better find and target cancer cells for elimination, as well as prevent future tumor growth. In fact, the new nanodisc technology is one of the first preventative measures for cancer that is also designed to kill existing tumors.

"The holy grail in cancer immunotherapy is to eradicate tumors and prevent future recurrence without systemic toxicity, and our studies have produced very promising results in mice," said University of Michigan assistant professor James Moon.

University of Michigan scientists tested the nanodiscs in mice with existing melanoma and colon cancer tumors, and they observed 27 percent of T cells in the bloodstream of the mice successfully learn to target tumors after administration of the nanodiscs. That number improved when researchers added the administration of immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs, which are designed to boost the T cell response to cancer.

The combination of immune checkpoint inhibitors and the nanodisc technology helped most of the mice immune systems eliminate tumors within 10 days of treatment. Seventy days later, researchers injected mice with the very same tumor cells, but they were defenseless against the already-primed immune system. This, said lead author Rui Kuai, “suggests that the immune system ‘remembered’ the cancer cells for long-term immunity.”

"We are basically educating the immune system with these nanodiscs so that immune cells can attack cancer cells in a personalized manner," Moon said.

"It's a powerful vaccine technology that efficiently delivers vaccine components to the right cells in the right tissues,” said study co-senior author Anna Schwendeman. “Better delivery translates to better T-cell responses and better efficacy.”

The present study was recently published in the journal Nature Materials.

Source: University of Michigan

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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