Researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center are exploring ways to wake up the immune system so it recognizes and attacks invading cancer cells.
Tumors protect themselves by tricking the immune system into accepting everything as normal, even while cancer cells are dividing and spreading.
One pioneering approach, discussed in a review article published this week in WIREs Nanomedicine and Nanobiotechnology, uses nanoparticles to jumpstart the body’s ability to fight tumors. Nanoparticles are too small to imagine. One billion could fit on the head of a pin. This makes them stealthy enough to penetrate cancer cells with therapeutic agents such as antibodies, drugs, vaccine type viruses, or even metallic particles. Though small, nanoparticles can pack large payloads of a variety of agents that have different effects that activate and strengthen the body’s immune system response against tumors.
There is an expanding array of nanoparticle types being developed and tested for cancer therapy. They are primarily being used to package and deliver the current generation of cancer cell killing drugs and progress is being made in that effort.
“ Our lab’s approach differs from most in that we use nanoparticles to stimulate the immune system to attack tumors and there are a variety of potential ways that can be done,” said Steve Fiering, PhD, Norris Cotton Cancer Center researcher and professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and of Genetics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “Perhaps the most exciting potential of nanoparticles is that although very small, they can combine multiple therapeutic agents.”