April 27, 2018 -- Scientists are harnessing the untapped power of red blood cells to help fight deadly cancers and other diseases.
Nicknamed ''superblood,'' the treatment is under study by at least three companies following similar approaches. Researchers collect red blood cells from patients, modify them so anti-cancer or other medicines can be enclosed, then inject them back into patients. The goal is improve the medicines' effectiveness while reducing harmful side effects.
Experts not involved in the research say the approach has merit, while cautioning that it is in the early stages of research. "It has broad applications -- if it's proven to be effective and safe," says Caius Radu, MD, professor of medical and molecular pharmacology at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in April, researchers said that adding L-asparaginase, an enzyme that’s part of a multi-drug chemotherapy treatment, to red blood cells and injecting the cells into 13 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a blood cancer, appears safe. More studies are planned.
"L-asparaginase is a very good treatment” for acute lymphoblastic leukemia," says Alison Walker, MD, an associate professor of hematology at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Walker presented the findings at the conference. But ''toxicity from (the chemo itself) can be significant and can delay further (needed) chemo," she says.