Ultrasound and immune cell combo may solve major cancer treatment issue

Researchers with the University of California – San Diego have published a study detailing a new cancer treatment that targets malignant tumors without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. The treatment was used in mice that had cancerous tumors, revealing that a combination of cancer-targeting immune cells and ultrasound is a promising experimental therapy.

The study revolves around chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, which uses the patient's own genetically modified T cells to attack cancer cells. The big issue with this promising cancer treatment therapy is that while it has shown promise against cancers like lymphoma, it isn't currently effective against solid cancerous tumors.

The reason is that the antigens targeted by CAR T-cell therapy are also found on normal, healthy tissue, meaning the cancer treatment will also attack non-cancerous parts of the body. The new study from UCSD explores a way to make this cancer therapy an option for treating solid cancerous tumors.

Key to the experimental treatment is the use of ultrasound energy to direct and 'switch on' the reengineered CAR T cells so that they only target the tumor. Focused ultrasound beams were directed at the tumors in mice using a transducer over the skin. The heat generated in the tumor resulting from this method caused the CAR T cells to activate and attack the tumor.

The results in mice used to test the ultrasound-based and traditional CAR T cell cancer therapies found that the version detailed in the new study resulted in only the tumors being attacked. Though the research is described as still in its early stages, the researchers say their results indicate that ultrasound-based therapies may be safer for treating solid cancer tumors.