A team of biomedical engineers working within a joint department of North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had their research published two weeks ago.

According to Dr. Zhen Gu, the team’s senior author, the research focuses on using blood platelets to minimize the spread of cancer cells after surgical treatments.

“We just leverage the physiological properties of the platelets, because the platelets just naturally accumulate in the [surgical] sites,” he cited.

Residual cancer cells that circulate after the excision of malignant tumors remain a threat to cancer patients, but Gu’s team may have found a way to interdict those cells.

“We can specifically transport this kind of [cancer-fighting] antibody to the surgical sites,” explained Gu.

By placing engineered antibodies on the surface of blood platelets and delivering those platelets to surgical sites, the team discovered that recurrent tumor growth could be stayed.

This new technique of having antibodies ride on platelets is significant because it counteracts the response of the immune system to attack healthy tissue and repair cancer cells.

“The activator T-cells — they not only attack the tumor cells, but also the normal cells, normal tissues,” stated Gu.

Gu mentioned that the research was promising enough for the team to file a patent, prepare for a large-animal study and pursue commercial exposure by registering a business.

“We will actually launch a start-up company based on this technology, hopefully this spring” he offered.

If Gu’s team is able to incorporate, their story will be similar to that of Capio Biosciences, a company founded in part by a UNC professor that created a device to capture and analyze residual cancer cells.

With the US Food and Drug Administration having recently approved the antibody used by the team, Gu expressed optimism regarding the team’s approach as well as its future.

“We are very excited about that,” he noted. “It’s not only effective, but also very simple.”

Photo by UNC-NC State Joint Biomedical Engineering Program.