Cowpea Mosaic Virus Nanoparticles Show Promise Against Metastatic Cancers in Mice

Researchers at UC San Diego created a nanoparticle treatment derived from cowpea mosaic virus, which improved survival rates and suppressed tumor growth in mouse models of various cancers. The treatment, administered systemically, prevented tumor regrowth and metastasis in mice, even after surgical removal of tumors.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Cowpea Mosaic Virus Nanoparticles Show Promise Against Metastatic Cancers in Mice

Cowpea Mosaic Virus Nanoparticles Show Promise Against Metastatic Cancers in Mice

In a groundbreaking development, researchers at the University of California San Diego have created an experimental treatment using nanoparticles derived from the cowpea mosaic virus that has demonstrated remarkable success in protecting mice against various metastatic cancers. The treatment, composed of virus-based nanoparticles, improved survival rates and suppressed tumor growth in mouse models of colon, ovarian, melanoma, and breast cancer.

Why this matters: This breakthrough in cancer treatment has the potential to save countless lives and improve the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. If successfully translated to human clinical trials, this treatment could revolutionize the way we approach cancer care and significantly reduce the burden of metastatic cancers on individuals, families, and healthcare systems.

The study, published in the journal Advanced Science, reveals that the cowpea mosaic virus nanoparticles do not need to be injected directly into tumors to be effective. Systemic administration of the nanoparticles improved survival rates and inhibited metastasis across the tested cancer types. Notably, the treatment also prevented tumor regrowth in mice after surgical removal of tumors.

"Here, we do not treat established tumors or metastatic disease—we prevent them from forming," explained Nicole Steinmetz, professor of nanoengineering and director of the Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering at UC San Diego. "We are providing a systemic treatment to wake up the body's immune system to eliminate the disease before metastases even form and settle."

To produce the nanoparticles, the researchers grew black-eyed pea plants in the lab and infected them with cowpea mosaic virus. This process yielded millions of copies of the virus in the form of ball-shaped nanoparticles. These nanoparticles were then tested in mouse models of various cancers.

The treatment's efficacy was evident even when administered after surgical removal of tumors. "Even if you perform surgery to remove the tumors, no surgery is perfect and there is outgrowth of metastasis if no additional treatment is provided," Steinmetz noted. "Here, we use our plant virus nanoparticles after surgery to boost the immune system to reject any residual disease and prevent circulating tumor cells from metastatic seeding. We found that it works really, really well!"

The researchers observed improved survival rates and reduced tumor growth in mice injected with cowpea mosaic virus nanoparticles, even when challenged with new tumors a month later. The team plans to conduct safety studies and explore the treatment's efficacy in pet animals with cancer, with the goal of gearing up for clinical trials. Future studies will focus on understanding the mechanisms underlying the immune-boosting properties of these plant virus-based nanoparticles.

This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the Shaughnessy Family Fund for Nano-ImmunoEngineering at UC San Diego. The development of cowpea mosaic virus nanoparticles as a potential cancer immunotherapy represents a significant step forward in the fight against metastatic cancers, offering hope for improved treatment options and patient outcomes.

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers create cancer treatment using cowpea mosaic virus nanoparticles.
  • Treatment improves survival rates and suppresses tumor growth in mouse models.
  • Nanoparticles don't need to be injected directly into tumors to be effective.
  • Treatment prevents tumor regrowth after surgical removal in mice.
  • Goal is to move to human clinical trials and improve cancer treatment outcomes.