A new approach for treating metastatic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is in the works at the Queen Mary University of London. Researchers there are using “educated killer cells” to fight off advanced forms of the disease.
It is estimated that about 10.000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed in the U.K. each year. Because of how fast the abnormal cells can spread, it has one of the lowest survival rates among all other forms of cancer (less than 10% over 5 years after discovery).
In their clinical trials, the team harvested samples from patients with late-stage forms of malignancy and transplanted them into mice. Then they took that person’s own antibodies, genetically modified them to identify and eradicate the cancer cells, and injected them in the test subject. These are called CAR-T cells as a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) is attached to the T immune cell.
“Immunotherapy using CAR-T cells has been tremendously successful in blood cancers, but unfortunately, there have been toxic side effects in its treatment of solid tumors. Given the dismal prognosis of pancreatic cancer with conventional treatments, it’s vitally important that we develop safe and effective CAR-T cell therapies for solid tumors, such as pancreatic cancer”, said Dr. Deepak Raj, lead author.
Even more remarkable is the fact that the system can be turned on and off, or adjusted to a particular level, thanks to a “switch” molecule that doesn’t affect the treatment. This makes the therapy significantly safer and better targeted, minimizing side effects.
“Our work suggests that our new ‘switchable’ CAR-T cells could be administered to human patients with pancreatic cancer, and we could control their activity at a level that kills the tumour without toxic side effects to normal tissues“.
While results were categorized as “extremely promising”, Dr. Raj noted that there are still many more stages of trial needed before this can become an approved procedure.