Blaine Friedlander in the Cornell Chronicle:
By attaching a cancer-killer protein to white blood cells, Cornell biomedical engineers have demonstrated the annihilation of metastasizing cancer cells traveling throughout the bloodstream.
The study, “TRAIL-Coated Leukocytes that Kill Cancer Cells in the Circulation,” was published online the week of Jan. 6 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“These circulating cancer cells are doomed,” said Michael King, Cornell professor of biomedical engineering and the study’s senior author. “About 90 percent of cancer deaths are related to metastases, but now we’ve found a way to dispatch an army of killer white blood cells that cause apoptosis – the cancer cell’s own death – obliterating them from the bloodstream. When surrounded by these guys, it becomes nearly impossible for the cancer cell to escape.”
Metastasis is the spread of a cancer cells to other parts of the body. Surgery and radiation are effective at treating primary tumors, but difficulty in detecting metastatic cancer cells has made treatment of the spreading cancer problematic, say the scientists.
King and his colleagues injected human blood samples, and later mice, with two proteins: E-selectin (an adhesive) and TRAIL (Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand). The TRAIL protein joined together with the E-selectin protein stick to leukocytes – white blood cells – ubiquitous in the bloodstream. When a cancer cell comes into contact with TRAIL, which becomes unavoidable in the chaotic blood flow, the cancer cell essentially kills itself.