With all the research going on into devices and materials that can fight tumors with targeted drug delivery, nature has already engineered some pretty good ones. According to an article in New Scientist, evolution has produced powerful cytotoxic T-cells that "swarm over and demolish cancerous cells inside the body." The problem is that tumors have evolved protection of their own, in the form of a "mysterious chemical cocktail" that weakens T-cells. What to do? MIT has figured out a way to, in the words of the New Scientist article, upgrade the artillery.
Researcher Darrell Irvine tacked on about 100 nanoparticle capsules to a T-cell, then let them loose into mice afflicted with tumors. The spruced-up T-cells went directly to the tumors, while loose nanoparticles were flushed out of the system by the spleen and liver. Irvine and company then tried it again, only this time filled the nanoparticles with interleukins, which gave the T-cells extra encouragement to fight on. Had the interleukins spread all over the body, it would have been deadly, but these particles were concentrated in the tumors for a long period of time, resulting in better health for some fortunate mice.
"Darrell's work is really interesting," Aaron Foster, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told New Scientist. "The use of nanoparticles really simplifies the modification of T-cells because you don't have to change them genetically. That could really speed up some of the clinical trials.
- read the New Scientist article