For as long as there have been laboratories, researchers have been working towards the future. When it comes to fighting off disease and infection, the human body is capable of so much -- but sometimes it just needs a little help. The goal is to ensure a future where the body requires as little help as possible. I’ve discussed the prospect of using the power of our own biological engineering to combat infection and disease before, but in a recent article on Medical News Today, a University of Sheffield research team has discovered a potential “Trojan Horse” treatment for prostate cancer by adapting white blood cells to carry a “tumor-busting virus” into an afflicted area post radio or chemotherapy.
“Our ‘Trojan Horse’ can convert a patient’s own white blood cells into tiny tumor-killing machines which fight to prevent tumor regrowth after the end of chemo or radio therapy treatment,” said Claire Lewis, a Professor at the department of oncology at the University of Sheffield.
According to the article, by carrying a cancer-fighting virus in the white blood cells, the virus can “hitch a ride” through the bloodstream without being attacked by the body’s immune system. The problem with only using the white blood cells is making sure there is enough virus to fight the intended tumor. After “investigating this approach,” Lewis and the University of Sheffield research team began searching for an answer in an experimental study on mice. The solution, as it turns out, came down to a simple matter of timing.
“After chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the immune system floods the tumor with white blood cells called ‘macrophages,’ that mop up the debris caused by the therapy,” wrote Catherine Paddock, PhD, in the Medical News Today article.
By utilizing the “flood” of white blood cells and “injecting macrophages carrying a tumor-busting or ‘oncolytic virus’ (OV) into the bloodstream at the exact moment when this surge occurs,” the research team at the University of Sheffield discovered a way to successfully prevent the spread of a tumor. Providing a weapon in which immune cells could use to fight cancerous cells and inundating a tumor with them allowed the manipulated cells to “surf the wave” and attack the cancer at an overwhelming rate. The team also reported that the treatment “significantly increased the lifespan of tumor-bearing mice compared to those given docetaxel or irradiation alone.”
“If this treatment goes on to be successful in human trials, it could mark substantial progress in finding better treatments for men with prostate cancer which has spread to the bone, and ensuring the impact of more traditional therapies is maximized,” noted Kate Holmes, Head of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, referring to the “’Trojan Horse’ approach” as an “exciting development.”
Just as treatment is becoming more personalized, diseases like cancer are being assessed at the genetic level for individual qualities. The applications of a “Trojan Horse” style treatment stretch beyond prostate cancer to all cancers, potentially allowing for a standard in an area that seems to be more and more customized.