A MULTIDISCIPLINARY team of scientists have successfully demonstrated tumours in mice to be sensitive to a combination approach of immunotherapy and copper oxide nanoparticles. This novel therapeutic modality could hold great promise for the treatment of a number of human cancers, and hopefully negate the systemic administration of toxic chemotherapy regimens.
Upon identifying the toxicity of these copper-based compounds to mouse tumours, the investigators from Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven, The University of Ioannina, The University of Bremen, and the Leibniz Institute of Materials Engineering looked to develop a means to safely administer the nanoparticles and prevent the non-specific killing of healthy cells. By facilitating copper release from the nanoparticles through iron oxide pre-doping in a controlled manner, the therapy was shown to become further tailored towards tumour cell targeting based on distinctions in pH and intracellular metabolism. “If we ingest metal oxides in large quantities, they can be dangerous, but at a nanoscale and at controlled, safe concentrations, they can actually be beneficial,” explained Prof Stefaan Soenen and Dr Bella B. Manshian from KU Leuven.
Given as a monotherapy, the nanoparticles were unable to maintain a lasting remission after killing the tumour cells in mouse models. However, the investigators identified that the same nanoparticles were assisting cells of the immune system to fight foreign substances, including the tumours themselves. A combined nanoparticle–immunotherapy regimen was found to elicit lasting elimination of the tumour cells and, importantly, primed the immune system in a way as to target these tumour cells immediately following re-injection. Prof Soenen commented saying, “as far as I’m aware, this is the first time that metal oxides [have been used] to efficiently fight cancer cells with long lasting immune effects in live models.”
The group have next set their sights on testing this treatment on human tumour cells in order to justify progression to a clinical trial. If successful, the possibility of developing an effective vaccine for lung and colon cancer, the two malignant cell types in this study, could become much more of a reality.