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17 January, 2018

Cancer cells could be remotely killed: study

A cancer cell (white) being attacked by two cytotoxic T cells (red), part of a natural immune response triggered by immunotherapy.    REUTERS/NIH

A cancer cell (white) being attacked by two cytotoxic T cells (red), part of a natural immune response triggered by immunotherapy. REUTERS/NIH

REUTERS/NIH

Amid international fears and the spread of several kinds of cancer, a new team of researchers has developed a new system based on ultrasound that can kill cancer cells remotely.

According to the study, it is possible to non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognise and kill cancer cells. A T cell, or T lymphocyte, is a type of lymphocyte that plays a central role in cell-mediated immunity.

The researchers said that there is a critical need to non-invasively and remotely manipulate cells at a distance, particularly for translational applications in animals and humans.

Based on the mechanogenetics, the researchers have developed a pioneering method in order to remotely control genes and cell activations. Mechanogenetics is a field of science that focuses on how physical forces and changes in the mechanical properties of cells and tissues influence gene expression.

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In this study, ultrasound was used to mechanically perturb T cells, and then converted the mechanical signals into genetic control of cells. The researchers have published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal.

The study shows how their innovative method “remote-controlled mechanogenetics system” can be used to engineer chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-expressing T cells that can target and kill cancer cells.

CARs are engineered receptors which graft an arbitrary specificity onto an immune effector cell (T cell). Typically, these receptors are used to graft the specificity of a monoclonal antibody onto a T cell, with transfer of their coding sequence facilitated by retroviral vectors.

According to the researchers, the engineered CAR-T cells have mechanosensors and genetic transducing modules that can be remotely activated by ultrasound.

“CAR-T cell therapy is becoming a paradigm-shifting therapeutic approach for cancer treatment. However, major challenges remain before CAR-based immunotherapy can become widely adopted,” said Yingxiao (Peter) Wang, bioengineering professor at the University of California San Diego. He added that “for instance, the non-specific targeting of CAR-T cells against non-malignant tissues can be life-threatening. This work could ultimately lead to an unprecedented precision and efficiency in CAR-T cell immunotherapy against solid tumours, while minimising off-tumour toxicities.”

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