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New Cancer Immunotherapy Technique Can Specifically Target Tumor Cells

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine have developed a new immunotherapy screening technique that will allow doctors to target tumors without the side effects of standard cancer drugs, giving specialists the opportunity to create individualized cancer treatments. The tracking and screening system identifies T-cell receptors with 100 percent specificity for individual tumors, according to Lab On A Chip.

Traditional cancer treatments typically offer a one-size-fits-all disease response, particularly chemotherapy drugs that can have serious side effects.

T-cell receptor (TCR)-engineered T-cell therapy uses the patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. In the human immune system, T-cells have molecules on their surfaces that bind to antigens on the surface of foreign or cancer cells. The new therapy places engineered molecules on the patient’s T-cells to bind to particular cancer cell antigens, allowing the T-cell to destroy the cancer cells. By matching the T-cell molecules to the patient’s cancer cell antigens, doctors can provide individualized treatment.

The challenge is to identify which T-cell receptor molecules work against a specific tumor’s antigens. Doctors must identify the correct TCR molecules out of hundreds of millions of possibilities. Finding a match might take over a year and could cost upwards of half a million dollars, and many cancer patients don’t have that much time or money. The new screening technique greatly accelerates that process.

Using minuscule oil-water droplets, the researchers have designed a device that allows for individual T-cells to join with cancer cells in microscopic fluid containers. The TCRs that bind with the individual’s cancer cells can be sorted and identified within a week, which has the additional benefit of costing far less than the previous technology.

“This technology is particularly exciting because it dismantles major challenges in cancer treatments,” said Weian Zhao, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and the leading researcher from UC-Irvine on the project, in UCI News. “This use of droplet microfluidics screening significantly reduces the cost of making new cancer immunotherapies that are associated with less systemic side effects than standard chemotherapy drugs, and vastly speeds up the timeframe for treatment.”

UC-Irvine is partnering with Amberstone Biosciences (a company created by UC-Irvine) and will make the platform and screening process available to pharmaceutical companies within months. The hope is that the technology will not only be useful for TCR-T cell therapy but may also have applications for the discovery and use of other immunological agents, including antigens and CAR-T cells.

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