A team of Portuguese researchers is working towards developing a new treatment for breast cancer, based on molecular engineering, by creating an antibody that is capable of eliminating malignant tumours.
Videira, the research has been awarded this year’s Santander Totta/Universidade Nova de Lisboa Prize for Scientific Merit, worth €25,000.
Speaking to Lusa News Agency, Ms. Videira explained that the research, which will take place over coming years, aims to manipulate antibodies so that cells from the immune system, called T-cells, can be joined with breast cancer cells, allowing the former to eliminate the latter.
Antibodies are molecules generated to unlock a specific immune defence. Chemically, they are glycoprotein.
According to Paula Videira, of Lisbon’s Nova University’s Medical Sciences Faculty, breast cancer has characteristics that “create an immunosuppressive effect”, when the immune system cannot eliminate malignant tumour cells, which progress in the organism.
The malignant tumour cells then express, in this case on the surface, glycans – a type of sugar – which are very different to those found on normal cells and which are known as ‘sialyl-Tn’.
Instead of recognising the glycans and eliminating them, the body’s immune system cells “do nothing”, Ms. Videira explained. Therefore, what the team is trying to do is create a “bi-specific” antibody which joins specific cells from the immune system with those of breast cancer and, at the same time, “activates” the good cells to eliminate the bad ones.
During a first phase the researchers will “finalise” the “fabrication” of the anti-body designed to recognise the breast cancer cells.
Afterwards, the team is to carry out the characterisation of antibodies from tumour cells, before they are joined with the T-cell antibodies.
Once created this new anti-body will be tested ‘in-vitro’ on human cells and then on living animals that “can receive human cells without rejecting them.”
If successful the research could be, in Paula Videira’s opinion, “an important step” towards a more efficient, less toxic treatment for breast cancer, but also for cancers of the stomach,
pancreas and colon, which also express sialyl-Tn glycans.”