A recent Cornell study demonstrates a promising method for killing cancer cells in the bloodstream. Observing prostate cancer in mice, researchers injected liposomes containing a protein called Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand that attach themselves onto white blood cells to destroy cancer cells spreading through the bloodstream. The experiment, performed as a collaboration between the labs of Prof. Michael King, biomedical engineering, and Prof. Chris Schaffer, biomedical engineering, served as a followup to a study published in January 2014 on the use of TRAIL to attack tumor cells. “In the 2014 paper, we first showed that the nanoscale liposomes, when injected into the bloodstream, can kill nearly all of the cancer cells in the blood.” King said, “We showed this with human blood samples flowing in laboratory experiments, and we also performed short-term mouse experiments.”
According to King, these experiments consisted of injecting male mice with human prostate cancer cells and the TRAIL-carrying liposomes, which attach to white blood cells, and observing changes within a two hour period. The effects on the prostate tumors were encouraging, but the next step was to see whether TRAIL would hold up for metastasis — the formation of new tumors distant from the original tumor, the reason for more than 90 percent of human cancer deaths.