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Biodegradable gel keeps cancer at bay

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A new biodegradable gel improves the immune system’s ability to keep cancer at bay after tumours are surgically removed.

The gel, tested in mice, releases drugs and antibodies that deplete immune-blocking macrophages from the area and activate T cells so they can attack cancer.

University of Wisconsin–Madison scientists tested the gel on mouse models of several cancers.

The gel was found to keep at bay tumours that are known to respond well to this kind of immune therapy, like CT26 colon cancers.

But it also worked against B16F10 melanomas, S180 sarcomas and 4T1 triple negative breast cancers which are harder to treat and more likely to metastasise.

The researchers will now conduct more tests on animal models which could lead to human clinical trials later down the line.

Lead researcher Quanyin Hu, a professor in the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy, said:

“We are really glad to see that this local strategy can work against so many different kinds of tumours, especially these non-immunogenic tumours.

“We are even more glad to see this local treatment can inhibit tumour metastasis.”

A small number of cancer cells can be left after surgery, leading tumours to grow back.

The gel was developed to slowly release two components to counteract the process: Pexidartinib, which is approved for use to inhibit the function of tumour-associated macrophages, and anti-PD-1 antibodies, which help the immune system’s T cells recognise and attack cancerous cells.

The researchers hoped that the local release of the antibody-bound platelets and Pexidartinib would both maximise their effect near the tumour site and minimise side effects that occur when these therapies are given intravenously and circulate widely in the body.

Indeed, mice given the gel showed insignificant side effects. Bodies degrade the gel over time.

The gel significantly slowed the growth of lingering cancer cells and increased the lifespan of mice.

It also greatly reduced the spread of the metastasising breast cancer model the researchers examined.

Image: UW–Madison

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