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New therapy harnesses patients’ blood cells to fight tumors

April 10, 2023

Adoptive cell therapy (ACT) has become a promising immunotherapy tool to help treat advanced melanoma. The therapy, which harnesses immune cells collected from the patient’s own tumors, could provide a new treatment option to cancer patients, potentially bypassing radiation therapies and harsh chemotherapy drugs.

For the first time, Northwestern University scientists have discovered it is possible to isolate a tumor’s attack cells non-invasively from blood, rather than from tumors. The finding opens the door for ACT to treat harder-to-reach cancer types and makes it a more viable option for hospitals.

“We started asking questions about whether the immune cells that go into tumors come back out, and if you could find them in the bloodstream,” said Shana O. Kelley, the paper’s corresponding author. “We didn't know if we’d be able to find them or if we could see enough of them to even study them. Sure enough, they’re in the blood. This is the first time these cells have been studied in this context.”

Kelley is the Neena B. Schwartz Professor of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering at the Northwestern University Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and McCormick School of Engineering, and a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also is president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago.

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