New pancreatic and colorectal cancer therapy developed at UAntwerp

Researchers at the University of Antwerp are developing a new pancreatic and advanced colorectal cancer therapy. These two cancers are challenging to treat because a robust immune shield protects the tumours. A way to attack this shield has now been found, VRT NWS reports.

Pancreatic and colorectal cancers are aggressive, spread quickly and treatment is often ineffective or inadequate.

"These cancers have a very strong protective shield of connective tissue cells that nestle around the tumours. This makes it difficult for drugs and radiation to reach the cancer cells," says Professor Evelien Smits from the Centre for Oncological Research at the University of Antwerp.

With funding from cancer research foundation Kom op tegen Kanker, researchers have found a way to win the battle. "We have now discovered that a certain protein, CD70, is present on the outside of these connective tissue cells. And that the same protein is also on the outside of cancer cells. So it's the ideal target to attack," Smits says.

The attack is carried out by modifying immune system cells in the laboratory and giving them a kind of grab arm that recognises the protein. It allows them to grab and attack their target. The technique already exists and is successfully used against specific blood and bone marrow cancer types. However, the therapy is extremely expensive and can cause serious side effects.

"Until now, immunotherapy has used T cells," says Smits, "a type of immune cell that can destroy cancer cells. But they can also send the immune system into overdrive. We can intervene and bring it back under control, but there is also a small chance that the patient will die."

Natural killer cells

That's why the researchers are using natural killer cells. "These are potentially safer than T cells," says cancer researcher Jonas Van Audenaerde of the University of Antwerp. "The first clinical trials showed hardly any side effects. And we can produce these cells on a large scale from the blood of healthy donors."

This means that researchers can produce a large number of natural killer cells at the same time, which are available to patients whenever they need them. "This also reduces the cost per treatment," says Van Audenaerde.

"In the lab, we have shown that the natural killer cells we have created recognise and destroy the right cells in the tumour"

The new immunotherapy has only been tested in the laboratory on mice and human cells. "In the lab, we have shown that the natural killer cells we have created recognise and destroy the right cells in the tumour," says PhD student Astrid Van den Eynde, who conducted the research.

The researchers hope to have their new immunotherapy ready for patients in five years' time. But first, the therapy has to be prepared for clinical trials, and everything is being prepared in the clinic.


#FlandersNewsService | This picture taken through a microscope shows nematodes in a petri dish during a press conference by Hirotsu Bio Science in Tokyo, November 2021, to introduce a cancer screening test to detect early stages of pancreatic cancer © PHOTO BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

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