Interleukin-2 Drug Factories Eliminate Cancer in Mice

Bioengineers from Rice University are working to develop “drug factories” to target and fight cancer. Their new study, published in Science Advances, focused on using these drug factories to fight ovarian and colorectal cancer in mice and could potentially begin human clinical trials before the end of the year.            

This study used our MC-38 Cell Line, from the laboratories of James W. Hodge, PhD, MBA and Jeffrey Schlom, PhD at the National Cancer Institute/NIH, as a mouse model of colorectal cancer.

Study author Omid Veiseh with a vial of bead-like implants his lab
invented to serve as anti-cancer drug factories. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Drug Factories and Interleukin-2

The three most common forms of cancer treatment are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Although chemotherapy and radiation drugs are extremely powerful and have proven to be effective in destroying cancer cells, they are unable to exclusively target cancerous cells, resulting in damage to healthy cells in the area. With technology advancing, the team at Rice University was hoping to develop a treatment that is just as effective at treating cancer while minimizing the damage to healthy cells.

The drug factories used in the new study are beads the size of a pinhead that can be implanted with a minimally invasive surgery. These beads then continuously release a high dose of interleukin-2 (IL-2), which is a cytokine that activates white blood cells to fight cancer in the body. IL-2 is already approved by the FDA to be used as a treatment for cancer, but the drug factories used in this study can provide a more effective immune response by delivering higher concentrations of the protein directly to the tumor itself.

Eradicating Cancer in Mice

Researchers implanted the drug-producing beads next to tumors and within the peritoneum (the lining that supports abdominal organs, intestines and ovaries) to ensure IL-2 was concentrated primarily on the tumors and not the surrounding area.   

These drug factories only require a single administration, as they continue to produce the high concentration of the dose every day until the cancer is no longer detected. Once logistics such as dosage and required number of beads were ironed out, these drug factories showed great success in their ability to eradicate ovarian and colorectal cancers in mice in as quickly as six days.

Future Implications

Immunotherapy treatments strive to increase tumor inflammation and anti-tumor immunity without side effects from cytokines and pro-inflammatory drugs. This study has made exciting progress with the drug-producing beads’ ability to keep high concentrations of IL-2 contained to tumor sites without impacting the rest of the body. This same approach has the potential to be applied to a host of other cancers across the body with the ability to reprogram beads with any necessary cytokines for treatment.

The MC-38 cell line used in this study is available for researchers worldwide from the Kerafast catalog here, as are versions engineered to express human carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) or Mucin 1 (MUC-1). You also might be interested in other available cancer research reagents, such as: