Surgery is one of the first line treatments that patients with early-diagnosed cancer generally receive. Despite significant improvements in operating techniques, the disease still has a high chance of recurrence. Researchers from some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and China have teamed up, in an attempt to find a solution for this exact problem.
Their answer was a spray gel embedded with immune-boosting drugs. Tested on mouse models that had advanced melanoma, the compound was able to reduce the growth of the tumor cells and prevent the return of the disease.
“One of the trademarks of cancers is that it spreads. In fact, around 90 percent of people with cancerous tumors end up dying because of tumor recurrence or metastasis. Being able to develop something that helps lower this risk for this to occur and has low toxicity is especially gratifying”, noted Dr. Zhen Gu, professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.
The nanoparticles that make up the gel are made from calcium carbonate, the same substance as in eggshells for example. The team chose this material because it can gradually dissolve in surgical wound sites, which are slightly acidic, and because it boosts the activity of a type of macrophage that helps rid the body of foreign objects.
The gel is loaded with an antibody that specifically inhibits CD47, a protein that cancer cells hijack in order to release a “don’t-eat-me” signal. Blocking CD47 allows the immune system to find and destroy the tumors.
“We also learned that the gel could activate T cells in the immune system to get them to work together as another line of attack against lingering cancer cells”, added Dr. Qian Chen.
Researchers are still working on the formula to find optimal dosage, best mix of nanoparticles and ideal treatment frequency, before moving to human patients