Public Release: 

Killer cell immunotherapy offers potential cure for advanced pancreatic cancer

A new approach to treating pancreatic cancer using 'educated killer cells' has shown promise, according to early research by Queen Mary University of London

Queen Mary University of London

A new approach to treating pancreatic cancer using 'educated killer cells' has shown promise, according to early research by Queen Mary University of London.

The new cell-based immunotherapy, which has not yet been tested in humans with pancreatic cancer, led to mice being completely cancer-free, including cancer cells that had already spread to the liver and lungs.

Each year around 9,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease is particularly aggressive and has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. This is because it is often diagnosed at a late and advanced stage, when the tumour has already spread to other organs.

In the study, published in the journal Gut, the team used pancreatic cancer cells from patients with late-stage disease, and transplanted them into mice. They then took the patients' immune cells and modified them to specifically identify and eliminate the cancer cells - creating 'educated killer cells', or CAR-T cells.

And for the first time, the team introduced a new technology that allowed them to completely control the activity of CAR-T cells, making them potentially safer.

First author Dr Deepak Raj from Queen Mary University of London, said: "Immunotherapy using CAR-T cells has been tremendously successful in blood cancers, but unfortunately, there have been toxic side effects in its treatment of solid tumours. Given the dismal prognosis of pancreatic cancer with conventional treatments, it's vitally important that we develop safe and effective CAR-T cell therapies for solid tumours, such as pancreatic cancer.

"Our work suggests that our new 'switchable' CAR-T cells could be administered to human patients with pancreatic cancer, and we could control their activity at a level that kills the tumour without toxic side effects to normal tissues."

The team's new 'switchable' CAR-T system means the treatment can be turned on and off, or have its activity changed to a desired level, making the therapy extremely safe and minimising the side effects and improving the safety of the treatment.

The activity of the treatment was controlled through administration or withdrawal of the 'switch' molecule within living mice, without affecting the ability of the treatment to kill the pancreatic cancers.

The team now hopes to bring this promising therapy to the clinic.

Nile Amos, Research Manager at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "We are proud to have funded this research which highlights the potential of CAR-T cell immunotherapy for taking on pancreatic cancer. For more than 40 years too little progress has been made on developing new treatments for this devastating disease, for which survival remains unacceptably low.

"The results are extremely promising but there is more work to be done, which is why we are delighted to be funding the next stage of this cutting-edge science through our largest ever research grant, the Pancreatic Cancer UK Grand Challenge Award."

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For more information, please contact:

Joel Winston
Public Relations Manager (School of Medicine and Dentistry)
Queen Mary University of London
j.winston@qmul.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 7943 / +44 (0)7970 096 188

Notes to the editor

* Research paper: 'Switchable CAR-T cells mediate remission in metastatic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma' by Raj D, Yang MH, Rodgers D, Hampton EN, Begum J, Mustafa A, Lorizio D, Garces I, Propper D, Kench JG, Young TS, Aicher A, Heeschen C. Gut. 2018 Aug 18. pii: gutjnl-2018-316595. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2018-316595.

Available here: https://gut.bmj.com/content/early/2018/08/17/gutjnl-2018-316595.long

About Queen Mary University of London

Queen Mary University of London is a world-leading research-intensive university with over 25,000 students representing more than 160 nationalities.

A member of the prestigious Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our research.

In the most recent exercise that rated research in the UK, we were ranked 5th in the country for the proportion of research outputs that were world-leading or internationally excellent. We offer more than 240 degree programmes and our reputation for excellent teaching was rewarded with a silver in the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) awards.

Queen Mary's history dates back to 1785, with the foundation of the London Hospital Medical College. Our history also encompasses the establishment of the People's Palace in 1887, which brought accessible education, culture and recreation to the East End of London. We also have roots in Westfield College, one of the first colleges to provide higher education to women.

About Pancreatic Cancer UK

Pancreatic Cancer UK is taking on pancreatic cancer through research, support and campaigning to transform the future for people affected.

  • We provide expert, personalised support and information via our Support Line (Freephone 0808 801 0707) and through a range of publications.
  • We fund innovative research to find the breakthroughs that will change how we understand, diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.
  • We campaign for change; for better care, treatment and research, and for pancreatic cancer to have the recognition it needs.

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