#JournalClub: Anti-Cancer Immunotherapy

Hi there, Federica here! In the fast-paced world of scientific research, staying informed about the latest studies and breakthroughs is crucial. It enables researchers to build upon existing knowledge, avoid redundant efforts, and discover new directions for their work. That’s why we’ve started a new series of blog posts highlighting recent papers and explaining their significance for our research.

Recently, a fascinating study explored an innovative method to boost the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy: “A combination of a TLR7/8 agonist and an epigenetic inhibitor suppresses triple-negative breast cancer through triggering anti-tumour immune“.

The researchers investigated a combination of immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) and other drugs to turn “immune-cold” tumours (which evade the immune system) into “immune-hot” tumours (which the immune system can attack). They developed a special delivery system using nanoparticles called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). These nanoparticles were loaded with two types of drugs—a TLR7/8 agonist and an epigenetic inhibitor (BRD4 inhibitor). To make the nanoparticles even more effective, they were coated with vesicles from the cancer cells themselves. This coating helps the nanoparticles specifically target cancer cells.

But how does it work?

The nanoparticles are designed to find and enter triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells. Once inside, the drugs prompt the cancer cells to break apart and release signals that alert the immune system. These signals attract dendritic cells, which then activate CD8+ T cells—the body’s natural cancer fighters. The TLR7/8 agonist further enhances this immune response, making the treatment more powerful.

In both laboratory tests and animal models, this method showed significant promise. It not only slowed down tumour growth but also improved the body’s immune response to cancer. Importantly, the study found that this approach could remodel the tumour environment, making it more hostile to cancer cells. For example, they wanted to verify that their combined delivery system could really boost the body’s ability to fight tumours. They focused on a protein called calreticulin (CRT) that, when it shows up on the surface of tumour cells, helps the immune system spot and remove them. They found that when they used their special delivery system (CM@UN and MCM@UN), the levels of CRT on the surface of tumour cells went way up. This was especially true for the MCM@UN group, showing just how powerful their method was in getting the immune system to attack the tumours.

The original image was published in J Nanobiotechnology. 2024; 22: 296.

So, why is this study important for my work?

The principles of enhancing the immune system’s ability to fight cancer are central to both the research in the study and in my project. Like the nanoparticles in the study, mRNA vaccines can be designed to specifically target cancer cells, ensuring that the treatment reaches its intended destination. Another similarity is how the drugs activate the immune system, which parallels how mRNA vaccines work—by training the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.

I find this study really interesting as it sheds light on innovative strategies for cancer treatment and provides valuable insights that can inform and inspire our research on developing mRNA vaccines for childhood neuroblastoma!

Written by Federica Cottone