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Therapy using immune system cells preserves vision in mice implanted with rare eye cancer

October 12, 2020
Photo of child with one white pupil, a sign of retinoblastoma

Close-up photograph showing the eyes of a child with retinoblastoma. The pupil of the eye on the left side of the photo appears white compared to the pupil of the eye on the right side of the photo. A "white pupil" may be a sign of retinoblastoma. Image credit: National Cancer Institute, NIH

A treatment that uses immune system T-cells, combined with an immune-boosting drug packaged in an injectable gel, was found to preserve the vision of mice implanted with tissue from a human eye cancer known as retinoblastoma. The cancer is treatable in early stages but can still lead to the loss of vision in about 5% of cases.

The research findings from scientists at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center were published in Nature Cancer on Oct. 12, 2020.

The researchers used a chimeric antigen receptor-T (CAR-T) cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy where T-cells that comprise the immune system are modified in the laboratory to express chimeric antigen receptors, CARs, that target surface proteins on cancer cells. The researchers injected a water-based gel containing the CAR-Ts and IL-15 into the retinas of the mice. The CAR-Ts and IL-15 retained an extended ability to attack the cancer cells, control tumor growth and prevent tumor recurrence. They corroborated the lack of tumor growth with several imaging exams of the retina.