The best way to fight off cancer might be to strengthen the body’s immune system and help it identify and kill tumors. This field of study is known as immunotherapy, and while it’s showing promise it can be quite expensive. Now, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed artificial nanoparticles that should be cheaper and easier to produce.
Immunotherapy takes several forms, but the one in question here uses targeted antibodies. This technique involves engineering antibodies that latch onto the cancer cells and alert the immune system to its presence. But according to the researchers on the new study, there may be a better way.
“Immunotherapy basically boosts the patient’s own immune system to fight against cancer cells better,” says Seungpyo Hong, co-lead author of the study. “The antibodies that are used right now are large, they’re expensive, they’re hard to engineer, and they don’t always show the highest level of efficacy either. So we wanted to explore other ways to activate the immune system.”
To that end, the team investigated whether artificial nanoparticles could be made to work instead of engineered antibodies. Their nanoparticles are branched, allowing peptides to be attached to them. In this case, the peptides were fragments of PD-1, a protein that’s been at the heart of immunotherapy research almost from the beginning.