Scientists develop new method to safely stimulate immune cells to fight cancer

April 20, 2024  22:41

Last year alone, more than 600,000 people in the United States died from cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The relentless pursuit of understanding this complex disease has led to medical advances in developing treatments that are less invasive, yet highly effective.

One possible solution to the problem is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves harnessing the power of the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. Researchers from the USF College of Engineering have found a way to turn the treatment procedure into an innovative practice.

Rong Tong, assistant professor of chemical engineering, teamed up with Wenjun Cai, associate professor of materials science and engineering, to study a method of cancer immunotherapy that has long been of interest to researchers.
In their recently published paper in Science Advances, Tong and Tsai detailed their approach, which involves activating immune cells in the body and reprogramming them to attack and destroy cancer cells. This therapeutic method is often applied using the cytokine protein.

Cytokines are small protein molecules that act as intercellular biochemical mediators and are secreted by the body's immune cells to coordinate their response.

"Cytokines are powerful and highly effective stimulators of immune cells to kill cancer cells," Tong told us. - The problem is that they are so effective that if they move freely through the body, they activate every immune cell they encounter, which can trigger an overactive immune response and potentially deadly side effects."

Tong and Tsai, in collaboration with graduate students in chemical engineering and materials science, have developed an innovative approach to use cytokine proteins as a potential immunotherapy method. Unlike previous methods, their technique ensures that cytokines that stimulate immune cells are effectively localised to the tumour for several weeks, while maintaining cytokine structure and reactivity levels.

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