Texas A&M researchers have come up with a new treatment for cancer patients. The technique uses light to “Train” special immune cells to attack a cancerous tumor.
“This is groundbreaking research because we have been able to harness the power of light to control the activity of immune cells so that we can instruct the immune cells to attack tumor cells,” Zhou said.
“Cancer immunotherapy has become the hottest and most promising therapy to cure cancer patients due to accuracy in killing tumor cells without affecting normal tissues,” Peng said.
The science primarily revolves around T cells, a type of white blood cell that searches for abnormalities in the body, in order to kill infected or cancerous cells.
Zhou’s lab enlisted the help of Yun Huang, another A&M researcher who specializes in T cells.
“Because I work a lot with T cells, I contributed some of that work and gave some guidance and suggestions to the project.” Essentially, the T cells rely on dendritic cells, a cell that presents antigens to T cells, to be activated to increase calcium content.
As more dendritic cells become active, the body’s immune response increases and is better positioned to destroy cancerous cells, Peng said.
“In the presence of blue light, this fusion protein, LOV-STIM1, can open the calcium channel and activate the calcium signaling in dendritic cells,” Peng said.
“Once the calcium signaling is activated, dendritic cells can help T cells to efficiently recognize the tumor cells for tumor killing.” Despite this breakthrough, there was another obstacle to overcome.
Blue light, the light required for this immunotherapy, cannot penetrate the human body, and a different approach had to be taken.
Peng said the research team began using near-infrared, or NIR, light which can penetrate deep into tissue and patient’s body in conjunction with a nanoparticle called “UCNP.” This particle has the ability to convert NIR light into blue light inside the body.
“In order to activate the calcium signaling inside the body, we attached UCNP to the LOV-STIM1 cells and injected them into tumor-bearing mice,” Peng said.
“We turn on the NIR light and the UCNP converts the NIR into blue light and it activates the calcium signaling in dendritic cells buried deep in the body.” Once this is completed, dendritic cells are activated and meet T cells in the body, helping T cells to kill tumors more efficiently, said Peng.
“Once we subjected the mouse to the NIR light, we will found that the tumor growth will be substantially suppressed and there is less metastasis of melanoma cancer cells.” The bottleneck for the method being used clinically lies mainly with how the FDA will approve nanoparticle-based therapy.