Nanoengineers, radiologists work toward immunotherapy for liver cancer

San Diego, Calif., August 13, 2020-- A team of nanoengineers and interventional radiologists at UC San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System received a $575,000 grant from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) to develop a new method to treat liver cancer by combining ablation—a treatment to destroy tumors—with an immunotherapy derived from a plant virus.

Liver cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the country, in part because few patients are eligible for curative treatments such as a liver transplant. Instead, many patients will be treated with a minimally invasive procedure called ablation, which uses a wand inserted via a pinhole in the skin to destroy small tumors using extreme temperatures. Even with this treatment, however, the cancer can recur.

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Structure of the Cowpea mosaic virus

Nanoengineers led by Professor Nicole Steinmetz, director of the UC San Diego Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering, plan to improve the long-term results of ablation for liver cancer by combining it with a nanotechnology developed from a plant virus called the cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV). This plant virus has been shown to safely stimulate the immune system of humans. Since it is a plant virus, it is non-toxic and does not infect humans.

In collaboration with a team of interventional radiologists and VA scientists led by Dr. Isabel Newton, they will combine cryoablation, which destroys tumors with ice, with injections of the CPMV nanoparticle into the tumor. CPMV acts as a flare inside the tumor, stimulating the immune system to recognize and fight the tumor. Once activated, the immune system makes specialized cells that can patrol the body for tumor cells, even if they are at distant sites or if they appear in the future. This combined treatment is designed to treat the liver tumor and any tumor cells that may have spread throughout the body, protecting against cancer recurrence.

Steinmetz and her team have used the cowpea mosaic virus to successfully treat melanoma in dogs, and are using it to develop an ovarian cancer immunotherapy, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health.


Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering

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