Leaky pens often mess up clothes, causing a chronic problem for many. But, this problem inspired a research team at Stanford University to create a new technique to deliver a new, effective treatment for cancer.
The cutting-edge cancer treatment involves collecting and reprogramming a patient’s T cells – a special set of immune cells – then putting them back into the body ready to detect and destroy cancerous cells.
Although effective for widespread blood cancers like leukemia, this method rarely succeeds at treating solid tumors. In this study, researchers sought to address this challenge using a technique similar to a ‘leaky pen’.
Researchers liken T cells to ink, so they sought to place the cells in an environment that allows them to leak like ink, and eventually reach and treat solid tumors.
The researchers described their new technique that has proved effective in lab mice in a paper published on April 9 in the journal Science Advances.
Researchers added chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells and specialized signaling proteins known as cytokines, to a hydrogel – a water-filled gel that has characteristics in common with biological tissues – and injected the substance next to a tumor.
This gel provides a temporary environment inside the body where the immune cells multiply and activate in preparation to fight cancerous cells, acting like a leaky holding pen that pumps out activated CAR-T cells to continuously attack the tumor over time.
Currently, intravenous (IV) infusions are the main mode of administration for CAR-T cells. In this method, cells enter the bloodstream and flow through the entire body. But the approach is not ideal for treating solid tumors, which are often dense, exist in specific locations and have defenses to hide from and fend off immune cells.
“It’s kind of like a battle territory that’s filled with terrible things trying to fight off these T cells. So, the CAR-T cells have a hard time infiltrating to attack that tumor,” said Abigail Grosskopf, lead author of the study.