Using Tiny Nanodevices Made Out of DNA To Treat Cancer

Good News Notes:

The focus of these nanodevices is a particular type of cell known as tumor-associated macrophages, or TAMs. Macrophages are a type of immune cell that normally is supposed to recognize and remove microbes, cellular debris, and other foreign substances from cells; but if something goes wrong with them, they can become a key part of cancerous tumors. TAMs can comprise up to 50% of tumor mass in triple-negative breast cancer.

However, “despite the high abundance of TAMs in solid tumors, mechanisms underlying their impact on tumor development and therapeutic strategies to target them are incompletely understood,” said study co-author Lev Becker, associate professor in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research.

The importance of these TAMs goes back to how the immune system recognizes cancerous cells. There is a subpopulation of immune cells called CD8+ T cells that are critical in recognizing and killing cancerous cells. These CD8+ T cells can be activated against threats by binding to molecular structures called “antigens” on the surface of cancerous macrophages. This strategy goes awry, however, when TAMs don’t present antigens, so there is nothing for the T-cells to recognize.

Becker’s group found that TAMs harbored a high level of a kind of enzyme called cysteine proteases. They knew these particular enzymes live in lysosomes, which work as the “stomach” of the cell, so Becker’s insight was that they might be “over-digesting” tumor antigens –thereby concealing cancerous cells from patrolling CD8+ T cells….”

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