UM Twin Cities Researchers Find Way to Optimize Immune Response Against Cancer

In what many have described as groundbreaking work, a team of researchers based at University of Minnesota Twin Cities has demonstrated how the body’s immune cells can be engineered in order to navigate the physical barriers that make it hard for an individual’s immune system to fight cancerous tumors. This study has the potential to improve how millions of cancer patients are treated.

The research paper was published in the journal “Nature Communications.”

Conventionally, cancers are commonly treated through the use of chemicals (chemotherapy), radiation and surgery. Combinations of these approaches are also common. However, immunotherapy is also gaining ground as a way to treat cancer by equipping the body’s immune system to play the lead role in this fight.

One type of white blood cell crucial to the body’s defenses is the T cell. More specifically, the cytotoxic T cell is comparable to a soldier who is on patrol and looking for invader cells. Once such cells are identified, the T cells destroy the dangerous invaders, thereby preventing those cells from causing further harm to the body.

However, a lot of frustration has been faced by oncologists who attempt to kill cancer cells in solid tumors using immunotherapy because T cells find it difficult to make their way through those solid masses, so the “soldiers” run short of fuel and die off before stopping the invaders.

Paolo Provenzano, an associate professor of biomed engineering and also a senior author of the research, explains that solid tumors can be equated to an obstacle course. To make matters worse, the tumors act much like quicksand through which T cells have to move, a nearly impossible task.

The team sought to engineer T cells that were better equipped to overcome the physical barriers in their way as they move through solid tumors searching for cancerous cells. Provenzano says they managed to find ways to tune signaling and structural elements of the T cells so that their cancer-fighting abilities are boosted. As a result, the engineered cells travelled through the solid tumor at twice the pace that ordinary T cells exhibit while moving through the fibrous tissues of tumors.

The researchers relied on advanced genome editing technologies to modify the T cells’ DNA. Since each tumor can have a variety of obstacles that fighter cells have to overcome, the team is looking to engineer as many different genes as possible so that the patient’s T cells are able to navigate through every obstacle that they encounter.

For now, the team is focusing on seeing how these engineered immune cells work in rodents; future plans call for shifting the study to humans diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. However, the work is applicable to lots of other cancer types.

The fight against cancer has attracted several company, including CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP), which has a drug candidate targeting many central nervous system malignancies undergoing tests. These efforts are likely to result in better treatment outcomes for patients as the new remedies are deployed.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) are available in the company’s newsroom at

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