Duke Researchers Use Sickle Cells To Fight Cancer

Jan 9, 2013

A research team out of Duke has developed a way to use sickle cells to treat cancerous tumors. Sickle cells are typically associated with a potentially lethal genetic blood disease. Lead author Mark Dewhirst is a radiation oncologist and director of Duke's Tumor Micro-circulation Lab. He says when the crescent-shaped sickle cells are injected into mice, they tend to stick like Velcro to the vessel walls - thereby blocking the blood vessels that surround the tumor. He says the treatment could have broad therapeutic potential - particularly for tumors that are already starving for oxygen...

Mark Dewhirst: "I think it would be cancers in which hypoxy is a problem. Cervix is definitely one. Brain tumors, head and neck. Pancreatic cancer. Colon cancer. So there are a variety of different ones."

Dewhurst says application in humans is perhaps a decade away. Researchers will have to figure out a way to source an ample supply of sickle cells. There's talk of creating a stem cell line to make the specialized cells.