Scientists watch armed immune cells fight cancer

15 July 2010

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Category: Research & medical benefits

monitor–immune–cells.jpgArmed and tagged immune cells can be watched attacking tumours in mice in real time.

Lymphocyte cells were armed with T cell receptors which allowed them to detect and destroy melanoma skin cancers. The cells also included a tag called a reporter gene, which glowed during scanning. This helped researchers visualise the immune reaction, from point of entry into the bloodstream to arrival at the tumour sites.

The team saw the melanomas of mice attacked and degraded by the armed lymphocytes, similar to a normal immune response to foreign cells in the body. One million genetically engineered lymphocytes were created and injected into mice and in 2–3 days were seen attacking the tumours. But the process could take longer in humans and approximately one billion the engineered lymphocytes would be needed.

Earlier research on the arming of human lymphocytes was successful. Now that scientists can track how the system works in mice with an intact immune system, they hope to observe similar results in humans. Doctors would be able to watch lymphocytes attacking cancer in patients.

The team are now searching for a suitable vector that would be safe for humans. If they find one which is ideal, human studies could begin in a year.