A ground-breaking study from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities showed that engineered T cells, a type of immune cell found in the body, can overcome physical barriers to allow a patient’s own immune system to fight tumors. This exciting research could improve cancer therapies for millions worldwide.
Your immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that does a remarkable job of protecting you against disease-causing microorganisms and abnormal cells. Made up of white blood cells (including T cells), antibodies, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and the bone marrow, these components of your immune system actively fight infection and likely prevent the growth of many cancers. Immunotherapy, a type of cancer treatment, takes advantage of this powerful network to help a patient’s own immune system fight cancer.
While immunotherapy has been a successful option for some type of cancers such as blood-related cancers, the T cells struggle when it comes to fibrous, solid tumors since the stiffness of the tumor causes immune cells to slow down. Using a cell engineering approach, T cells can move through a tumor quickly and get to work.
“This study is our first publication where we have identified some structural and signalling elements where we can tune these T cells to make them more effective cancer fighters…We feel we are expanding a new line of research to look at how our own bodies can fight cancer. This could have a big impact in the future,” says Paolo Provenzano, the senior author of the study and a biomedical engineering associate professor in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.
National Cancer Institute (2019). Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer.
Better Health Channel (2017). Immune system explained.
University Of Minnesota Twin Cities (2021). New research optimizes body’s own immune system to fight cancer.