Ultrasound-based technology may be able to treat cancer

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | January 17, 2018
Rad Oncology Radiation Therapy Ultrasound
A schematic drawing of ultrasound-induced
cell activation and gene expression
Researchers in California have developed an ultrasound-based system that has the potential to treat cancer by non-invasively and remotely manipulating live immune T cells to recognize and kill cancer cells.

"Light cannot penetrate deep while radio waves and magnetic signals cannot be focused precisely into a small area," Peter Yingxiao Wang, professor at the University of California, San Diego, told HCB News. "As such, ultrasound provides the ideal modality to remotely and noninvasively activate genes and cells for therapeutic applications."

The remote-controlled mechanogenetics system uses ultrasound to mechanically disturb the T cells, and then the mechanical signals are used to genetically control the cells. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers demonstrated that this system can be used to engineer chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-expressing T cells to destroy cancer cells.

The engineered CAR-T cells have mechano-sensors and genetic transducing modules that can be remotely activated by ultrasound through microbubble amplification.

CAR-T cell therapy is showing promise, but major challenges remain in the way of widespread adoption. The therapy is not specific in targeting the CAR-T cells, which could harm healthy tissue and be life-threatening for the patient.

Wang and his team are currently working on a way to make this therapy more precise, in order to minimize damage to healthy tissue. Whether it could one day replace radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer still remains to be seen.

"It may still take time for CAR-T cell therapy to reach a high level of power against solid tumors and completely replace radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer, since a variety of solid tumors and their microenvironment can exert significantly adverse impact and inhibit substantially the functions of CAR-T cells," said Wang. "It may be a good approach to combine radiation therapy together with CAR T cell therapy, for example, radiation therapy followed by CAR T cell treatment."

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