Pioneering cancer treatment successfully trialled
21 August 2008
A new cancer therapy developed by Dr Mark Lowdell, UCL Medical School, has been successfully trialled on a patient.
The therapy involves a patented process to activate Natural Killer cells (NK) which occur naturally and attack tumours and virally infected cells. Whilst some tumours are easily killed by NK cells, many are resistant to NK killing. The hypothesis for the trial is that NK cells have two controls - one to prime the cell and the other to trigger it to kill tumour cells. Previously, scientists had only theorised that there was a single control. Dr Lowdell and his colleagues have shown that NK-resistant tumours usually lack the priming signal. The activation process uses a tumour-specific priming signal to generate TaNK cells (Tumour-activated NK Cells) from resting NK cells. These TaNK cells are already primed when they are infused into the patient and can thus be triggered when they come across a tumour cell; even when the tumour cell lacks the priming signal.
Laboratory experiments showed that these TaNK cells target a variety of haematological cancers as well as breast cancer and ovarian cancer cells. Initially it is hoped that this may increase the duration of remission periods in cancer patients but the long term goal is to clear residual tumour cells after chemotherapy.
The main benefit of this type of physiological treatment, compared with more traditional chemical-based treatments, is that there are far fewer side-effects. Although the first stage of the clinical trial is only being carried out with a low dose of cells - one million cells per kilogram - in order to check that the treatment is safe, the first patient has shown no side-effects from the injection of the cells and within a week the cells had multiplied to triple this number. Further stages of the trial will increase the dosage by five times and ten times.
The research is funded by Leukaemia Research, and the trial's Principal Investigator is Dr Panos Kottaridis of the Royal Free Hospital. The technology has been exclusively licensed to Coronado Bioscience Inc.
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Image: A TaNK cell kills a tumour cell