Scientists Find Miracle Gel that Kills Cancer Tumours

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Abimbola Akosile with agency report

A ground breaking research has churned out a biodegradable gel that has the capacity to kill cancer tumours. Created by scientists at the Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, the gel was designed to deliver immunotherapy directly to the area from which a cancerous growth has been surgically removed. Senior study author Michael Goldberg and colleagues recently reported their results in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Upon testing the gel on mice during the surgical removal of breast cancer tumours, the scientists found that it not only helped to prevent tumour recurrence at the primary site, but that it also eliminated secondary tumours in the lungs.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more than 1.7 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018, and over 600,000 people will die from the disease. The World Health Organisation in a report last year said over 8.8 million cancer death sare recorded globally yearly, out of which an estimated 80,000 are Nigerians. WHO estimates that cancer is responsible for almost 1 in 6 deaths globally.

More than 14million people develop cancer every year, and this figure is projected to riseto over 21 million by 2030 According to WHO statistics, over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, andabout 80,000 die from the disease, averaging 240 Nigerians every day or 10Nigerians every hour, dying from cancer. The Nigeriancancer death ratio of 4 in 5 is one of the worst in the whole world.

The WHO data also shows that cervical cancer which is virtually 100 percent preventable kills one Nigerian woman every hour, breast cancer kills 40 Nigerians dailywhile prostate cancer kills 26 Nigerian men daily. These three common cancersalone, kill 90 Nigerians daily. For cancer that forms as solid tumours – such as breast cancer and lung cancer – surgical removal of the tumour is often the primary treatment option.

However, as Goldberg explains, even when the tumour is removed, some cancer cells mayremain at the site. These can form new tumours, or even spread to other areasof the body. This is a process known as metastasis.

“Indeed, while half of all cancer patients undergo surgery aiming to cure the disease, 40percent of such patients experience a recurrence of the disease within five years,” Goldberg notes. “Furthermore,”he adds, “it has been shown that the body’s natural process of healing thewound created by surgery can actually spur these residual cancer cells tometastasise to distant parts of the body and form new growths.”

Immunotherapy- which involves using drugs to stimulate the immune system and attack cancercells – can help to prevent cancer recurrence and metastasis. However, thetreatment has some serious pitfalls. A majorproblem with immunotherapy is that it can attack healthy cells as well ascancerous ones, which can increase a patient’s susceptibility to otherillnesses.

“In this study,” notes Goldberg, “we sought to determine whether administeringimmune-stimulating drugs at the [right] place and the right time – at the siteof tumour removal, before the surgical wound has been closed – could enhancethe results of cancer immunotherapy.”

The researchers explain that when a cancerous tumour is removed, the immune systemuses most of its resources to help heal the wound, rather than fighting anycancer cells that may have been left behind. This cancreate what the team calls an “immunosuppressive” micro-environment, in whichcancer cells can thrive and spread. As Goldberg explains, the scientists set out to transform this immunosuppressivemicroenvironment into one that is “immunostimulatory” – that is, one that canattack and destroy residual cancer cells after surgery.

To achievethis feat, the researchers created a hydrogel loaded with drugs that stimulatedendritic cells, which are immune cells that are involved in the initial immuneresponse. They “present” any foreign invaders or diseased cells – such ascancer cells – to T cells, which launch an attack. The gel -which comprises a sugar naturally present in the human body, making itbiodegradable – is placed at the site from which a tumour has been surgicallyremoved. The gel then gradually releases the drugs over a prolonged period,which the team says increases its efficacy.

For their study, Goldberg and team tested the gel in mice that underwent the surgicalremoval of breast cancer tumours. The team made the decision to use the geldirectly after tumour removal, rather than before.

“We reasoned,”Goldberg explains, “that it would be easier to eliminate a small number ofresidual cancer cells by creating an immunostimulatory environment than itwould be to treat an intact primary tumour, which has many means of evading animmune system attack.” Several months after surgery, the mice treated with the gel were much less likely toexperience tumour regrowth, compared with rodents that received conventional immunotherapy delivery.

When theresearchers injected breast cancer cells into the side opposite to where theoriginal tumour was removed, the gel-treated rodents showed no signs of tumourformation. Also, thestudy found that the gel eradicated secondary tumours in the lungs of the mice- that is, it eliminated lung tumours formed from breast cancer cells that hadspread from the primary site.

The researchers also replicated their findings in mice with primary lung cancer and melanoma,which is a deadly form of skin cancer. Based on theirresults, Goldberg and colleagues believe that their gel-based immunotherapy could be an effective treatment strategy against a number of different cancers. “This approach has the potential to deliver immunotherapy in a manner that focuses the therapyat the site of interest during a critical time window,” he says. “We are extremely encouraged by the results of this study and hope that this technologywill be adapted for patients for testing in clinical trials in thenot-too-distant future,” said Goldberg.