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18 May, 2021 16:41

Cutting-edge ‘Trojan horse’ tech that makes cancer tumors destroy themselves may work to treat Covid-19 too

Cutting-edge ‘Trojan horse’ tech that makes cancer tumors destroy themselves may work to treat Covid-19 too

Researchers at the University of Zurich have developed a technology that could not only cause cancer tumors to kill themselves, but could also potentially eradicate Covid-19 in people’s lungs.

The team used a modified adenovirus – a common type of respiratory virus that is often repurposed and used extensively in medical treatments as a delivery mechanism. The technology, known as SHielded, REtargeted ADenovirus (SHREAD), is akin to a Trojan horse in that it evades detection from the body’s own immune system and delivers genetic instructions for therapeutic antibodies directly into the tumor cells themselves. 

The tumors then begin to mass produce their own doom in the form of antibody cells that eventually consume and eliminate the tumor, but with significantly lowered side effects compared to traditional cancer treatments. 

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“We trick the tumor into eliminating itself through the production of anti-cancer agents by its own cells,” says postdoctoral fellow Sheena Smith, who led the development of the technology at Zurich University.

A key element of this technique is that the therapeutic agents mostly stay in place and do not float off elsewhere in the body, thus sparing healthy organs and tissues from any collateral damage. The technologies that guide the adenovirus ‘Trojan horses’ to the right place in the body while hiding them from the immune system act almost like a precision-guided weapon.

In laboratory tests on mice, the scientists tricked a cancer tumor into producing trastuzumab, a clinically approved breast cancer antibody. Furthermore, the tumor actually produced more of the antibody over time, accelerating its own demise. Concentrations of trastuzumab away from the tumor, in tissues and the bloodstream, were low, indicating the reduced potential for side effects, confirmed by high-resolution 3D imaging observations.

The cutting-edge technology could mark the arrival of a highly effective delivery system for powerful drugs that would otherwise inflict too much damage.

Adenovirus vectors are currently being deployed in the Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines, but without the SHREAD technology. The Zurich researchers believe they could create an inhaled aerosol that could allow for targeted production of Covid-19 antibodies within the lung cells themselves. 

“This would reduce costs and increase accessibility of Covid therapies, and also improve vaccine delivery with the inhalation approach,” Smith says.

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