In the ongoing struggle to find a better way to treat cancer, the hopes of doctors and patients have been buoyed recently by the revival of an old idea—using the body’s immune responses to attack tumors. But while immunotherapies have shown tantalizing promise, they’ve presented frustrating problems. In some cases, the immune system waged attack on healthy tissues and organs, as well.
A breakthrough by Duke medical researchers could change that. The team designed an artificial protein that tethers a tumor to the body’s own T-cells, focusing the immune cells’ lethal attack. In tests with mice, the treatment eradicated brain tumors in six of eight cases without damaging other tissues.
“Our therapeutic agent is exciting, because it acts like Velcro to bind T-cells to tumor cells and induces them to kill without any negative effects on surrounding normal tissues,” says senior author John Sampson, a neurosurgeon at Duke’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. The results are especially noteworthy because they are from trials with brain tumors, which have proved particularly challenging to treat by any means.