Researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School have reported that engineering hepatitis B virus (HBV)-specific T cells, a type of immune cell found in the body could help treat hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Researchers demonstrated that the treatment was personalized by engineering T cells specific to each patient. The therapy was successfully performed on two liver transplant patients who had HBV associated liver cancer recurrence.
“In this study we showed that the integrated HBV-DNA gene components in the HCC cells were able to activate functional HBV-specific T cells.” said Professor Antonio Bertoletti, from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Programme, who is a senior co-author of the study in a press release.
“Hence, by analysing the specific HBV-DNA integration patterns in these HCC cells, we were able to select, design and engineer the individualised T cells for therapy. Our studies showed that these engineered T cells were able to destroy the tumour,”
“There were over 20 T cell infusions that were successfully performed on the two liver-transplanted patients,” said co-author Thinesh Lee Krishnamoorthy, a consultant in the gastroenterology and hepatology department at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). “None of the patients experienced adverse reactions related to the treatment and one of them had a reduction in the tumour size of distant metastases of the liver cancer.”
Chronic HBV infection is predominant in Asia and is largely associated with the development of HCC, the commonly occurring liver cancer.
The current available effective treatments for small to moderate size HCC are restricted to surgery, liver transplantation and loco-regional treatment that kill cancer cells by interventional radiologic means. Treatment with drugs only helps in a modest increase in the overall survival in more extensive disease.
In patients who have HCC recurrence after liver transplantation, the treatment options are even more limited.
The authors plan on further refining the technique and treatment strategy with research and trials to improve the efficacy of the therapy.
Researchers from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Lion TCR were also involved in the study.