Although pancreatic cancer is uncommon, the pancreatic tumor is regarded extremely aggressive and is responsible for a significant number of cancer fatalities. Researchers have discovered a novel method of combating this sort of cancer.
According to the German Cancer Research Center’s (DKFZ) Cancer Information Service, around 19,000 persons in Germany get pancreatic cancer (pancreatic carcinoma) each year. Due to the rarity of symptoms in the early stages of the disease, the majority of persons affected are diagnosed at an advanced level. Treatment is determined by the extent of the tumor’s spread and the patient’s overall condition. Experts now report on a novel therapeutic technique.
One of the most lethal and severe cancers
According to a recent declaration by the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) hospital, pancreatic tumors are among the most severe and deadly types of tumors – and as such, they are the focus of intense research.
Now, a team led by Prof. Sebastian Kobold of the LMU Hospital Munich’s Department of Clinical Pharmacology has discovered a strategy to efficiently combat this malignancy in the laboratory.
The researchers recently published their findings in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Possibility of survival is slim
According to specialists, anyone diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor has a slim chance of survival. Only 10% of patients survive five years following diagnosis, despite all medical efforts.
Despite this, experts continue to look for novel medicines to alleviate the situation. “Immunotherapy is being treated as a hot iron in the fire there,” Sebastian Kobold continues, “and we know from preclinical work that T cells of the immune system can also be very effective in fighting tumors.”
With an accent on the word “can.” That is because in order for these immune cells to be effective, they must first reach the tumor location and then penetrate to the cancer cells. However, this is the crux of the matter.
Because, as the message says, the pancreas tumor cells are surrounded by a tough stromal tissue. On the other hand, these cells produce a messenger molecule known as CXCL16.
This CXCL16 recruits a subset of immune cells that operate as a preventative measure against the malignancy rather than initiating an attack. However, the group of T cells capable of fighting the tumor theoretically lacks the receptor capable of targeting it in response to the CXCL16 signal.
Using genetic engineering to modify T cells
So what are we to do? Genetically modify T cells to create the missing receptor. That is precisely what Kobold’s research team accomplished. The scientists accomplished this feat by utilizing so-called CAR-T cells.
CAR-T is an acronym for “chimeric antigen receptor in T cells” The term refers to the genetic changes that transform T cells into aggressive tumor killers.
To enable immune cells to recognize cancer cells, experts employ genetic engineering techniques to design an antenna onto the surface of T cells that recognizes a particularly specific chemical on the surface of tumor cells via the lock-and-key concept. The beefed-up T cells then use this antenna to track down their adversaries, dock onto them, and ultimately destroy them.
To ensure that the CAR-T cells specifically target pancreatic tumor cells, the Munich researchers added the missing receptor gene to the CAR-T cells. And with resounding success: “In all laboratory experiments,” Kobold notes, “the CAR-T cells equipped in this way found their target and attacked the cancer cells of pancreatic tumors.”
The scientists have begun the arduous process of developing clinical studies in response to their findings. The first step is to manufacture the modified CAR-T cells in a manner that complies with all regulatory standards.
Simultaneously, clinical trials are being planned, which are required for human applicability. “In a few years,” the physician explains, “we will then know whether our hopes for a new therapy against pancreatic tumors will be fulfilled.”