Implants teach the immune system to ID cancer

Researchers at Harvard University are experimenting with a way to stimulate the immune system to recognize and fight cancers, and they may have found a way to do it using doped implants.

These implants are tiny biodegradable discs full of something known as granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, a substance that attracts the immune system's dendritic cells—the same cells that lock on to bacteria and viruses, then carry them to the lymph nodes—where T-cells are waiting to kill them.

Unfortunately, dendritic cells can spot all manner of foreign microbes, but they can't identify cancer.

The Harvard team is trying to change that by "teaching" the cells to identify cancer by removing molecules of the cancerous tumor via biopsy, then attaching them to the biodegradable discs, along with a substance the body associates with infection, cytosine-guanosine oligonucleotide.

The dendritic cells are attracted by the granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, only to find themselves caught in the "spongy implant's pores", where they are exposed to the cancerous molecules and the cytosine-guanosine oligonucleotide. Cued by the latter chemical, they then take the cancer cells to the killer T-cells in the lymph nodes to have them killed.

The Harvard team published a highly successful study with mice in the journal Nature Materials earlier in 2009 and will begin human clinical trials next summer.

Source: The Economist

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