New research has found that cell-squeezing technology can help treat a subtype of HPV-16-driven neck and head cancer.
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It has been observed for over a decade that the significant cause of some head and neck cancers has been increasingly identified as HPV (human papillomavirus). Evidence suggests that 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the US are caused by HPV.
As observed over the past three decades, the incidence of HPV-driven cancers worldwide and in the US has significantly escalated.
Although there are screening tools and even vaccines for certain HPV-driven cancers, such as cervical cancer, resources for HPV-driven head and neck cancers have been limited. Hence, the development of an innovative treatment for these conditions has been a priority for researchers.
MD, Ph.D., Antonio Jimeno, co-leader of the Developmental Therapeutics Program, University of Colorado, and the CU Cancer Center head and neck cancer SPORE grant, led a phase 1 clinical trial on a promising therapeutic that has shown significant potential.
According to the published research results, a microfluidic squeezing technology is used on a type of immune cell, namely, PBMCs (peripheral blood mononuclear cells), which help stimulate anti-tumor activity in a subtype of HPV-16 positive cancers. Which include neck and head, cervical, and anal cancers.
The research was led because there have not been many conventional treatment options for HPV-driven head and neck cancers. Jimeno has stated that he and his team have been well aware of the situation and are conducting cell therapy and immunotherapy clinical trials to achieve more effective and less toxic options to offer the patients.
HPV Phase 1 Clinical Trial
The main focus of phase 1 clinical trials was on patients with a subtype of HPV-16-positive solid tumors.
The participants underwent apheresis, a procedure in which whole blood is separated into its components. This is done by removing whole blood and putting the blood through a centrifuge. The target apheresis session is to acquire 5–10 billion PBMCs.
According to Jimeno, PBMCs are then sent to a lab where they are trained to locate and kill HPV-caused cancer cells; this acts as a boot camp for the PBMCs.
Through cell squeeze technology, PBMCs were passed through very tight channels, which resulted in the opening of pores on their surface. After this, the cells were fed a peptide associated with HPV, which is usually recognized by immune cells.
This was done to train the HPMCs to locate and memorize the affected cancer cells. The goal of this trial was to ensure that if these cells encounter HPV-driven cancer cells in the future, they will attack them.
After undergoing the cell squeeze process, the PBMCs were infused back into the patients during an outpatient therapy session that usually lasted for around one hour.
This process was conducted every 21 days, and it did not require the participants to undergo any chemotherapy or immunosuppression.
According to Jimeno, promising results have been observed in phase 1 of clinical trials. The most important factors of the study are that
- There cannot be an issue of rejection as the patient’s blood is used for the therapy.
- Since the cells have not been genetically modified on their surface, unwanted attention from the immune system will not be received.
The biopsies of the cancer cells taken before and after the therapy have shown positive results, as the modified cells were observed to be activated and “chewing” the cancer cells.
He stated that the patients they had in Colorado who underwent treatment for a year had stable disease. Furthermore, this can be a very suitable and appealing option for patients who have run out of options and are comfortable with being on a therapy that does not require supplementary chemotherapy or a hospital stay and has no serious side effects.
Some of the patients experienced mild side effects to the therapy, such as rash, fatigue, and a slight immune reaction, but the researchers believed that the toxicity was manageable and considered to be considerably outweighed by the benefits.
A phase 1B trial is going on after the conclusion of the phase 1 trial; this is said to combine immunotherapies and first-generation cells.
Jimeno believes that the process has potential for other types of cancers as well because genetic modifications are not a requirement for the process.
He also added that such therapies could in the future reduce patient waiting times as such cell technologies can be generated at the point of delivery, that is, very soon after the cells of the patients are collected.