Scientists Develops Supramolecule That Helps Immune Cells ‘eat up’ Cancer

Our immune system puts up a good fight against cancer, but the deadly disease can undermine the defense mechanisms of our body in elusive ways. Now, researchers might have found a way to beat cancer cells and give our immune system the boost it needs to win the battle.

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Macrophages, which means “big eaters” in ancient Greek, are the largest immune cells in our body. In cases of viruses or bacteria infection, these cells are the first line of defense to come to the rescue.

Macrophages also offer help in the fight against cancer. There are two types of these cells — M1 and M2 — and they both serve paired functions.

M1 macrophages activate the immune system to start fighting, while M2 cells soothe the ensuing inflammation the results from the combat.

However, cancer has a strategy of getting past the macrophages. It cunningly does this by turning the combative M1 macrophages into peaceful M2s, and its malignant cells emit a “don’t eat me” signal that deceives M1 cells into leaving them alone.

However, researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, might have discovered a way to outsmart cancer’s clever ways, defeating both of its mechanisms in one triumphant blow.

The innovative discovery were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, and the study was led by Ashish Kulkarni , an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and one of the corresponding authors of the research.

Kulkarni and colleagues designed supramolecule, which is a chemical structure built of smaller molecules that bond together similarly to LEGO pieces.

The supramolecule was fashioned to block cancer cells’ “don’t eat me” signal and stop the signaling that turns M1s into M2s. The scientists tested the supramolecular compound in mouse models of aggressive breast and skin cancer, equating it with another existing drug.

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By day 10, mice that were not treated had developed large malignant tumors, while rodents that were treated with existing drugs revealed smaller tumors.

corresponding author, Shiladitya Sengupta, an associate bioengineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA said:

“But the mice that were treated with the new supramolecule displayed “complete inhibition” of tumor growth and of “formation of metastatic nodules. We [could] actually see macrophages eating cancer cells,”

In their paper, the research team conclude:

“Such an integrative immunotherapy approach underpinned by bifunctional supramolecules can emerge as a new paradigm in the treatment of cancer.”

“Clinicians are increasingly realizing that one drug or a one-size-fits-all approach is not enough when combating cancer, and that a combination immunotherapy, such as blocking two distinct targets in the same immune cell, is the future of immuno-oncology. Our approach capitalizes on this concept.”

Next, the scientists plan to duplicate their findings in further preclinical studies, as well as to assess the safety, effectiveness, and dosage of the new therapy.


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