'Smart' molecules give white blood cells an appetite for cancer cells

Researchers have developed smart protein molecules to reprogram white blood cells to fight cancer cells and other infectious diseases, stopping the spread of the disease. Findings were published in Nature Communications.

iSNAPS (integrated sensing and activating proteins), the smart protein, detects molecular signals in cells to enable white blood cells to fight disease. Macrophage white blood cells, when contacting cancer cells, are sent a “don’t eat” signal. With iSNAPS, the signal is changed to “eat” and the white blood cells can consume and destroy cancer cells.

In the study, led by bioengineering professors Peter Yingxiao Wang and Shu Chien of the University of California, San Diego, researchers examined the effectiveness of iSNAPS in reprogramming macrophage white blood cells to be able to consume cancer cells.

Results showed white blood cells could consume cancer cells using active iSNAPS. When the iSNAPS were disabled, the macrophage was still able to detect the presence of the cancer cell but could not eat them. Researchers hope to develop iSNAPS to battle cancer cells and other infectious diseases.