Scientists have designed a special type of drug that helps the body
eat and destroy cancerous cells. The treatment boosts the action of
white blood cells, called macrophages, that the immune system uses to
gobble up unwanted invaders. Tests in mice showed the therapy worked
for aggressive breast and skin tumours, Nature Biomedical Engineering
journal reports.  The US team behind the study hope to begin human
trials within a few years.  The drug that they designed already has a
licence, which they say should hasten the approval process.  It is a
“supramolecule” – a drug built from component molecules that fit
together like building blocks.  Treatments that target the immune
system to fight cancer are a growing area of research that lots of
scientists around the world are investigating. This latest work
involves a devouring or “phagocytic” immune cell called the
macrophage. Macrophages are already good at fighting bacterial and
viral infections because they can recognise and attack these “foreign”
invaders.  But they are not so effective at tackling cancer, since
tumours grow from our own cells and have clever mechanisms to hide
from immune attack. The drug Dr Ashish Kulkarni and colleagues at
Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital used in their
study works in two ways.  Firstly, it stops cancer cells from hiding
and sending out “eat me not” signals to macrophages. Secondly, it
prevents the tumour from telling macrophages to turn docile. The
supramolecular therapy appeared to stop cancer from growing and
spreading in the test mice.  The researchers envisage that it could be
used alongside other cancer treatments such as checkpoint inhibitors.
Carl Alexander, from Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s promising to see
yet another new approach. More work is now needed to show that this
approach could be used to treat cancer patients.”

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