Synthetic Polymer Activates STING (Stimulator of Interferon Genes), Which Boosts the Innate Immune System to Fight Cancer

A new nanoparticle-based drug can boost the body’s innate immune system and make it more effective at fighting off tumors, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) have shown. Their study, published online on February 8, 2021 in Nature Biomedical Engineering, is the first to successfully target the immune molecule STING (stimulator of interferon genes) (image) ( with nanoparticles that can switch on/off immune activity in response to their physiological environment. The article is titled “Prolonged Activation of Innate Immune Pathways by a Polyvalent STING Agonist.” “Activating STING by these nanoparticles is like exerting perpetual pressure on the accelerator to ramp up the natural innate immune response to a tumor,” says study leader Jinming Gao (, PhD, a Professor in UTSW’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and a Professor of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery, Pharmacology, and Cell Biology. For more than a decade, researchers and pharmaceutical companies have been trying to develop drugs that target STING. Discovered in 2008, the STING protein helps mediate the body’s innate immune system--the collection of immune molecules that act as first responders when a foreign agent, including cancer DNA, circulates in the body. Research has suggested that activating STING can make the innate immune system more powerful at fighting tumors or infections. However, results from earlier clinical trials involving first-generation compounds targeting STING for activation failed to demonstrate an impressive clinical effect.
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