Targeting cell fusion as possible way to repair organs, deliver cancer vaccines

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic cancer researchers have developed a way to biologically fuse living cells through the use of a genetically engineered cell membrane. This process, which Mayo researchers call "biofusion," could speed development of new tumor treatments and cancer vaccines.

The Mayo Clinic cancer researchers' study on biofusion appears in the current issue of Nature Biotechnology (http://www.nature.com/nbt/). The researchers report their new process kills cancer tumor cells, based on their successful treatment of mice into which human cancers were implanted.

Significance of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Research

"Our biofusion research represents a promising new technological platform for enlisting natural properties of fused cells to kill cancers, stimulate immune responses or repair damaged tissues," says Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Russell directs Mayo Clinic's Molecular Medicine Program and leads the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center's Gene and Virus Therapy Program.

The key to biological cell fusion is that two cells come into contact and the fusion proteins on the surface of one cell recognize a receptor on the other cell. This act of recognition triggers fusion of their respective outer lipid membranes. "It's like two bubbles merging into one bigger bubble," explains Dr. Russell.

With cancer, the fusion rules change, says Dr. Russell. When cancer cells fuse with each other the "big bubble" formed may grow dramatically -- containing up to 1,000 cancer cells -- and it is nonviable. The cancer cells therefore die.

This fact that fused cancer cells kill each other has been known for some years. The missing element has been a way to direct fusion partners to exploit this tendency and use it as a basis for anticancer treatment.

The ability to target fusion partners is important. If the wrong cells fuse, then healthy cells -- instead

Contact: Mary Lawson
Mayo Clinic

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