A promising new approach to treating cancer involves removing some of the patient’s immune T cells and reprogramming them so that they can successfully destroy cancer cells. The modified cells are cultivated in the lab before being re-introduced into the patient to grow their ranks and kill off cancer.
The treatment recently began a two-year clinical trial on 25 patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center after it resulted in a 90 percent survival rate in an earlier study on mice with otherwise fatal cancer. Half of the mice showed no signs of cancer at all after being treated with the vaccine.
Doctors insert an aspirin-sized sponge, which consists of polymers, just under the skin. By mimicking infection, the materials in the sponge signal immune cells to come to it. The device then supercharges the cells before sending them out to find and kill cancer.
“We’re trying to take the biology that normally happens in a lab and instead move it into the human body, and it’s all orchestrated by these little pieces of plastic. It looks like it might be more powerful than the traditional way of pursuing cancer vaccines and it clearly could be much less expensive and much less of a regulatory burden as well,”said David Mooney, a Harvard professor of bioengineering who is part of the cross-disciplinary team that developed the implant. The vaccine specifically works by stimulatingdendritic cells to teach the rest of the immune system to recognize cancer as an invader and mount a counter-attack.