Researchers Create DNA Modified "Super Soldiers" to Fight Cancer

The research aims to enhance anti-tumor immunity.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Researchers at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have engineered DNA-modified "super soldiers" to fight cancer. The development sees immune killer T-cells transformed into "super soldiers" whose ability to kill cancer cells has been dramatically boosted.

The research is conducted by Ph.D. candidate Helen Loo Yau, Post-doctoral Fellow Dr. Emma Bell, and Senior Scientist Dr. Daniel D. De Carvalho.

"Our goal for the future is to use this strategy combined with other immunotherapies to enhance anti-tumor immunity," said De Carvalho, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto.

"We imagine a future clinical trial where we collect T-cells from the patient for treatment with epigenetic therapy in the lab. This could expand the army of cancer-killing cells effectively creating an 'army of super-soldiers.'These cells can then be re-infused into the patient, to potentially enhance their built-in immune response to the tumor."

De Carvalho's lab first noticed an increase in T-cell infiltration in mouse tumors treated with epigenetic therapy that stopped working when they removed the T-cells. They then drew the conclusion that the T-cells were responsible for the treatment's success.

They proceeded to try this same therapy on T-cells from healthy human donors, as well as from patients with melanoma, breast, ovarian and colorectal cancer. Their results identified two specific genes that were activated by the epigenetic therapy and which were responsible for the T-cells to become better at killing the cancer cells.

"The T-cells became sort of 'super soldiers', with highly activated molecules — with bigger and better weapons — to destroy the cancer cells," explained Dr. De Carvalho adding that his work sets the stage for clinical investigations combining epigenetics with other immunotherapy strategies.