One promising strategy to treat cancer is stimulating the body’s own immune system to attack tumors. However, tumors are very good at suppressing the immune system, so these types of treatments don’t work for all patients. MIT engineers have now come up with a way to boost the effectiveness of one type of cancer immunotherapy. They showed that if they treated mice with existing drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, along with new nanoparticles that further stimulate the immune system, the therapy became more powerful than checkpoint inhibitors given alone. This approach could allow cancer immunotherapy to benefit a greater percentage of patients, the researchers say. “These therapies work really well in a small portion of patients, and in other patients they don’t work at all. It’s not entirely understood at this point why that discrepancy exists,” says Colin Buss PhD 2020, the lead author of the new study. The MIT team devised a way to package and deliver small pieces of DNA that crank up the immune response to tumors, creating a synergistic effect that makes the checkpoint inhibitors more effective. In studies in mice, the scientists showed that the dual treatment halted tumor growth, and in some cases, also stopped the growth of tumors elsewhere in the body. Sangeeta Bhatia (photo), MD, PhD, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, is the senior author of the paper, which was published online on June 3, 2020 in PNAS.
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