Mitigating cancer cells using genetically engineered immune cells

by Tryammbak Kansal

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer remedy that uses the immune system to restrict, regulate and alleviate cancer. It is also known as immune-oncology. It is a form of biotherapy or Biological response modifier (BRM) therapy as they use living organisms to fight cancer. Different types of immunotherapies such as antibiotics, cancer vaccines, use of cytokines, etc are currently present to treat cancer. But a recent development has been observed in the field of “gene therapy” that involves the use of genetic engineering to enhance immune cells so that they can easily annihilate cancer cells. In a recent study, scientists were able to genetically engineered immune cells called myeloid cells, to give signals to the immune system to organs where cancer can spread. This is a novel approach that can be used to treat metastatic cancer, a type of cancer that usually spreads from its original location to the other parts of the body thus very strenuous to treat using normal ways.

Research is going on lab mice where Myeloid cells are being used as they have an abundance of the premetastatic niche( signals that get distinct sites to get ready for cancer arrival). And when they detect cancer, they generally produce interleukin 12 (IL-12) signals that alert and activate immune cells. During metastatic cancer, it is being observed that myeloid cells instead of activating cancer cells they send signals which tell to stop the action of immune cells with a capacity to fight cancer cells in the other organs of the body where cancer can spread. So to curtail this issue they used genetic engineering to add an extra gene of IL- 12 with a sense to lower the signals that suppress the immune system. They tested those myeloid cells nicknamed GEMys on mice with rhabdomyosarcoma (a rare type of soft tissue cancer) and observed that the survival rate of mice increased significantly. Moreover, this treatment leaves a long-lasting “immune memory” of cancer. GEMys also has some benefits which can guarantee its success. They don’t multiply rapidly inside the body, which in turn stops that flooding of IL- 12 as high levels of immune cells can be fatal.

A clinical trial of GEMys will soon begin on humans to cure different types of cancers using this novel approach. This research shows that even though immunotherapy is considered the last method to treat cancer patients but modern scientific advancements do possess the ability to make it one of the mainstream treatments with a long-lasting effect and without having adverse side effects in comparison to radiation or chemotherapy.

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