Cornell: Curing cancer one cell at a time

By Jillian Marshall

January 17, 2014 Updated Jan 17, 2014 at 12:02 AM EST

Ithaca, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Cancer is in the second leading cause of death in this country, but researchers at Cornell University are taking strides to potentially lower that statistic by coming up with a substance that kills cancer cells.

Dr. Michael King and his students have figured out a way to potentially stop metastasis, which is when cancer spreads from one organ to another.

Bio-medical Engineers at Cornell are building microscopic biological armies around white blood cells and turning them into cancer-killing machines.

They took two proteins, one an adhesive protein, called E-Selectin, and another a therapeutic protein, they call TRAIL, and combined them into nano-particles.

When that combination is injected in to the blood stream, it attaches, covers, and essentially protects, white blood cells.

"Now, all the white cells are there presenting the therapeutic TRAIL, and if any of the cancer cells come close and bump into that white cell, it will die within a couple of hours," Dr. King said.

In this four and a half year study, they found cancer cells are killed off in naturally occurring collisions with the 'sticky nano-particles.'

"In later experiments we took our therapeutic and injected it into mice, and introducde cancer cells into the mice, and what we found we were able to kill nearly all cancer cells in the mouse's circulation," the professor said.

A handful of Bio-medical engineering students and professors recently published a paper in the 'Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.'

The next step will be to see if the substance prevents tumors from spreading in mice.

Dr. King said the challenge in this phase will be when to give the therapeutic and how much.

"I hope that we can actually do something with this that could actually help a patient beat cancer one day," said PhD. candidate and lead author of the paper, Mike Mitchell.

Dr. King said if this works in humans, it could potentially eliminate metastasis, which is responsible for 90 percent of cancer related deaths.