Genetically engineered T cell tackles kidney cancer

November 26, 2001

As part of a project financed by NWO, an experimental method has been developed to tackle metastasised kidney cancer. After being engineered outside the body, T cells taken from the body's own immune system attack the cancer. Clinical studies in the next few years will show whether the medication also works in actual practice.

The experimental method is based on genetically engineered T cells. The researchers, at Rotterdam University Hospital's Daniel den Hoed Cancer Centre, take T cells from the immune system and alter them outside the body. The adapted T cells then find the metastasised kidney cancer cells in the body. When they have found their target, the standard machinery of the immune system takes over. The body attacks the cancer cells and wipes them out.

The genetically engineered T cells do their job very effectively during in vitro experiments. Over the next few years, the researchers intend carrying out extensive clinical studies.

The immunologists carry out tests on the tumour in each patient because there are various different types of kidney cancer. The team then insert a gene into the T cell which is specific to the kidney tumour and which produces receptors on the T cell. The receptors affix themselves to kidney tumours while leaving normal cells alone.

In order to engineer the T cells, the researchers make use of a virus containing the gene for the receptor. The virus penetrates the T cell, infects it and delivers the gene.

The researchers call their immunogenetic therapy 'chimaera receptor mediated'. In Greek mythology, the Chimaera was a fire-breathing monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. The experimental medication doesn't combine goats, lions and serpents, but it does combine T cells and antibodies, or rather the cellular immune system with the humoral immune system.

About four hundred people a year die of kidney cancer in the Netherlands. For patients with metastases, there is as yet no effective treatment. Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy are effective in less than 10% of such cases.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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