Turning cancer against itself

July 11, 2018

Engineered cancer cells can deliver therapeutic molecules to tumors in mice

Shah self-targeting cancer Science Translational Medicine
Engineered cancer cells (green) deliver a therapeutic molecule to brain tumor cells (red). Photo from the Khalid Shah laboratory.

By Jessica Lau

Cancer cells have a self-homing ability: they can move around the body to locate tumors. This usually helps the cancer to spread, but Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) scientists have figured out how to turn the tables. Published in Science Translational Medicine, their new study shows how these self-targeting cells can be exploited to deliver a therapeutic molecule straight to a tumor.

Senior author Khalid Shah, M.S., Ph.D. is an HSCI Principal Faculty member, Vice Chair of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS). In the study, his team used CRISPR gene editing to equip cancer cells with a therapeutic protein. The protein attached to receptors on the surface of tumor cells, activating a cell-death program that eliminated the tumor cells.

Shah and his colleagues also engineered the therapeutic cancer cells with a self-destruct mechanism: a protein that converts a drug to its active form. After clearing the tumor, the researchers administered this drug to specifically remove the engineered cancer cells.

They tested their new therapeutic strategy in mice with primary and metastatic tumors.

“This study demonstrates the potential of engineered tumor cells for receptor-targeted therapy,” commented Mario Suvà, M.D., Ph.D. Suvà co-leads the HSCI Cancer Program and is an Assistant Professor of Pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital and HMS.

“This study exemplifies many of the unique facets of tumor biology that are being studied in the HSCI Cancer Program and that can potentially lead to novel therapeutic strategies,” he added.

Read more

Reinshagen C. et al. (2018). CRISPR-enhanced engineering of therapy-sensitive cancer cells for self-targeting of primary and metastatic tumorsScience Translational Medicine. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao3240

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Press Release (2018). Engineered Cancer Cells Can Fight Primary and Metastatic Cancer.