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New cancer detection and elimination methods

New advances on the fight against cancer have recently been announced by Israeli scientists. One is a new cancer detection method using optoelectronic technology to detect minuscule concentration of cancer cells. Another is a new treatment method that uses the bodys own immune system to respond to cancer as if it was a virus.

Prof. Itamar Willner
Dr. Yoram Reiter

The New Cancer Detection Technology is the outcome of a research team headed by Professor Itamar Willner, Enrique Berman Chair of Solar Energy, who developed a unique technology for optoelectronic detection of the presence of cancer cells. The technology detects the presence of telomerase, an active enzyme appearing in cancer cells that is considered a general marker for different types of cancers.The technology has provided a basis for the formation of a joint venture company involving the University's Yissum Technology Transfer Company and an Australian company. A diagnostic kit for the detection of cancer cells in urine samples is currently under development and kits for detecting colon cancer and leukemia in stool and blood samples are foreseen. When chemically modified magnetic particles are brought into contact with cancer cell samples, the telomerase performs on the magnetic particles the same bioprocess that has occurred in the cancer cells. That is, there is a build-up on the magnetic particles of nucleic acids called telomeres. In this process, however, a chemically modified nucleotide base is incorporated into the telomeres. The modified magnetic particles are then separated from the cancer cell sample, and the incorporated material is used to bind a second enzyme that leads to the formation of light by the system. When this happens, it is an indication that cancer was detected on the particles. The method is highly sensitive, indicating the presence of even minuscule numbers of cancer cells in pathological samples. It has been successfully applied so far to detect a variety of cancers in tissues and body fluids.The second advance is a novel new cancer treatment developed in Israel that has been shown to eliminate or shrink tumors in 100 mice. The treatment causes anti-viral T cells - white blood cells that play a large role in the bodys immune response - to recognize tumors as virus-infected cells, and thus attack them.

The idea was developed at the molecular immunology laboratory at the Department of Immunobiology at the Bruce Rappaport Institute of Medical Sciences at the Technion Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Yoram Reiter from the Department of Biology in the Technion, who headed the research team, explained the new idea: "Our approach is to use anti-viral T cells to kill tumors. Tumor-specific T cells are very rare and not very efficient. On the other hand, the body has very efficient anti-viral T cells, because throughout our lives were exposed to many viruses such as influenza. These cells are very efficient at recognizing cells that dont belong. The team genetically engineered a molecule that is naturally found in the body. On one side of the molecule is an antibody designed to attach itself to a specific type of cancer cell. On the other side, the team placed a molecule called major histocompatability complex (MHC) that allows T cells to recognize if the cells are self or foreign. MHC does this through its peptides, small fragments of protein from cells. T cells survey peptides on MHC molecules to determine whether the cells attached to the MHC molecules are foreign and should be destroyed.

Reiter cautions that many approaches in cancer research have been successful in mice but do not translate to humans. He remains optimistic, however, and strongly believes the process will not be toxic - unlike chemotherapy and similar treatments - since it is based on natural molecules in the immune system

Following the encouraging results of clinical trials on mice, the researchers began cooperating with the Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva in the development of molecules designed for clinical treatment of cancer in humans.

Iddo Genuth

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