"It is very difficult to design cancer therapies that get the body's immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells that the system has ignored for a long time," says Ivan Borrello, M.D., assistant professor of oncology and director of the research, which is published in the March 1 issue of Cancer Research. "Now, we have evidence that 'educating' T-cells in the bone marrow may be the most effective way to get an anti-tumor response."
In nature, T-cells are responsible for identifying cells that are foreign to the body, including genetically altered cancer cells, and marking them for destruction. In the Hopkins study of both kinds of T-cells, those from the blood and bone marrow, scientists mixed them with magnetic beads coated with tumor antibodies, a sort of "artificial intelligence" that activated and expanded the T-cells' cancer-killing mode.
The marrow T-cells identified not only mature myeloma cells but the primitive cells responsible for the disease. Activated bone marrow T-cells stopped the growth of 86 percent of myeloma stem cell colonies compared to 47 percent for activated t-cells taken from circulating blood. The researchers' next step is to determine whether the cells' ability to limit cancer growth in culture dishes ultimately may do the same in patients.
Kimmel Cancer Center researchers are planning studies in a small number of myeloma patients to test the activated marrow T-cells alone and in combination with a myeloma vaccine.