Cancer treatments boosted by immune cell hacking

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

Elaborately engineered immune cells can not only recognize cancer cells, but also evade defences that tumours use to fend off attacks, researchers have found. Two studies published today in Science1,2 build on the success of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cancer therapies, which use genetically altered T cells to seek out tumours and mark them for destruction. These treatments have the potential to lead to long-lasting remission, but are not successful for everyone, and have so far been effective against only a small number of cancers.

To bolster the power of CAR-T therapies, researchers have further engineered the cells to contain switches that allow control over when and where the cells are active. The hacked cells produce a protein that stimulates T cells, to counteract immunosuppressive signals that are often released by tumours. Both studies are a tour de force in T-cell engineering and highlight the direction that researchers want to push CAR-T-cell therapy, says systems immunologist Grégoire Altan-Bonnet at the US National Cancer Institute. “We know a lot of the parts, now it’s being able to put them together and explore,” he says. “If we engineer the system well, we can really put the tumours into checkmate.”

More here.