Outsmarting Cancer with Collagen

Outsmarting Cancer with Collagen

Noor Momin, Naveen Mehta, Emi Lutz, Prof. K. Dane Wittrup

Koch Institute at MIT, MIT Department of Biological Engineering, MIT Department of Chemical Engineering

All solid cancerous tumors wall themselves off from the body’s immune system by erecting a dense protective layer of collagen. The collagen entraps immune cells, preventing them from infiltrating and eliminating the cancer cells within. In this image of a mouse melanoma tumor slice, we show that our collagen-binder (purple) anchors to this wall of collagen, perfectly encircling the tumor periphery. (Blood vessels appear green.) The unique spatial arrangement of our collagen binder and the sheer abundance of collagen captured in this picture inspired us to devise a new and improved cancer immunotherapy.

In current form, several promising immunotherapeutic agents are only marginally effective and typically lead to severe side effects thus limiting their clinical application. We found that intratumoral administration of these agents fused to our collagen-binder localizes these agents to the collagen wall (as depicted) confining their actions to the tumor. This novel treatment activates just the collagen-entrapped immune cells to eradicate the cancer without any toxicity from off-tumor effects. Successful cancer immunotherapies rely on outsmarting a tumor. This image shows that the tumor’s own collagen wall can be used to safely and effectively concentrate agents of its demise. Read more about this work here.

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