Genetically engineering immune cells to stop cancer from spreading



While treatment advances have greatly benefited patients with cancers diagnosed in early stages, cancers that have spread through the body, known as ‘metastatic’ cancers, still present a major treatment challenge and remain the leading cause of cancer deaths. The environment where metastatic tumors develop is a potential therapeutic target given its vital role in the development and regulation of metastasis.


A team led by IRP senior investigator Rosandra Kaplan, M.D., created genetically engineered immune cells (GEMys) that provoke the immune system to attack cancer cells in a controllable fashion. The GEMys accomplish this by precisely delivering an anti-cancer signal to organs where cancer may potentially spread later on. In a study of mice, treatment with the GEMys shrank tumors and prevented the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. The mice also became resistant to new tumors.


The results of these studies introduce GEMys as a potential novel therapeutic strategy for advanced cancer. Because GEMys stimulate other immune cells to attack cancer and reduce suppression of the immune system by tumors, they may be more effective than other strategies that only target one component of the tumor. The observation that mice treated with GEMys were resistant to new tumors also suggests that GEMys may reduce cancer recurrence.


Kaczanowska S, Beury DW, Gopalan V, Tycko AK, Qin H, Clements ME, Drake J, Nwanze C, Murgai M, Rae Z, Ju W, Alexander KA, Kline J, Contreras CF, Wessel KM, Patel S, Hannenhalli S, Kelly MC, Kaplan RN. (2021). Genetically engineered myeloid cells rebalance the core immune suppression program in metastasis. Cell. Apr 15;184(8):2033-2052.e21. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.02.048.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 8, 2023