Macrophages are important immune cells that protect us against threats by engulfing and destroying them via a process known as phagocytosis. Several exciting new cancer treatments work by enhancing the ability of macrophages to recognize cancer cells specifically. However, recent studies have shown that macrophages are less efficient at destroying cancer cells compared to bacteria due to the cancer’s “soft” surface structure. Still, little is known about the mechanical preferences of macrophages or how they might be modified in the human body to improve their cancer-fighting abilities.
Therefore, Dr. Vorselen is investigating how macrophages engulf and destroy “soft" targets, with an aim toward understanding how they can be trained or enhanced to do this more efficiently against tumors. For this purpose, he is manufacturing soft hydrogel particles that can be tuned precisely with respect to size, stiffness, and chemical composition. Then, by feeding the particles to macrophages, he will be able to determine how the eating behavior of the macrophages changes depending on properties such as the stiffness and size of the particles. This study has immediate importance for understanding cancer cell uptake by our immune cells, and could facilitate the design of improved immunotherapies for macrophage-mediated tumor destruction.
Projects and Grants
Role of mechanics in phagocytic clearance of cancer cell mimics
University of Washington | All Cancers | 2019 | Julie Theriot, Ph.D.
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