Genetically engineered immune cells that target a protein found on some pancreatic tumours can penetrate that cancer's defences, according to studies in mice.

Harnessing engineered T cells to combat cancer has been more successful for blood cancers than for solid tumours, such as those of the pancreas, which are protected by a dense cellular barrier and are particularly deadly. Philip Greenberg and Sunil Hingorani of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and their colleagues engineered T cells to recognize a protein called mesothelin that is associated with the spread of certain pancreatic tumours. The engineered T cells were able to bind to this protein more tightly than did normal T cells.

The engineered cells infiltrated pancreatic tumours in mice, leading to an increase in tumour-cell death compared with control mice. Mice that received a series of engineered T-cell infusions lived nearly twice as long as those that did not.

Cancer Cell (2015)