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Smart molecules turn white blood cells into better cancer-eating machines

A team of researchers has engineered smart protein molecules that can reprogram white blood cells to ignore a self-defense signaling mechanism that cancer cells use to survive and spread in the body. Researchers say the advance could lead to a new method of re-engineering immune cells to fight cancer and infectious diseases. The team successfully tested this method in a live-cell culture system. The smart proteins, called “iSNAPS” (integrated sensing and activating proteins), are designed to detect precise molecular signals in live cells and, in response, act upon those signals to enable the cells to fight disease or perform other beneficial functions. This study is the first to demonstrate how both sensing and activating capabilities can be combined into a single molecule, said one researcher. The researchers inserted their iSNAPS into macrophages, a type of white blood cell, and demonstrated that they dramatically enhanced the macrophages’ ability to engulf and destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells.

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