Nanomaterial’s Potential in Cancer Immunotherapy

By Daniel Walocha ‘19

Figure 1. Nanomaterial has the potential to effectively deliver immunotherapy treatments to target cancer cells.

Immunotherapy is a promising therapy that has potential since it uses the patient’s own immune system to kill cancer cells. This unique quality that is not usually present in radiation or chemotherapy has promise in that it can present a durable treatment that limits metastasis and future recurrences. Since cancer cells rely heavily on immune evasion or suppression to avoid cell death, targeting these mechanism will make the cancer cells vulnerable to the host’s own immune cells. Previous trials with ipilimumab, a monoclonal antibody that inactivates the “off” switch of T cells, exhibits the promising nature of immunotherapy.

Wantong Song, Ph.D, and a team of researchers from UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy describe the potential of nanomaterials in delivering cancer immunotherapies. Nanomaterial that can encapsulate the desired immunotherapy are small enough to avoid filtration by the kidney, and can therefore remain in the host’s system for a longer amount of time—increasing duration and effectiveness. The nanomaterial in itself may also present anti-tumor properties that include promoting immune response and antigen presentation. Copolymers containing tertiary amines such as PC7A, for example, were shown to induce the stimulator of interferon genes pathway in addition to their primary function in delivering the tumor immunotherapy, tumor antigens. The tumor antigens were able to condition T-cells to the glycoproteins that are more readily expressed in tumor cells than on normal cells (tumor-associated antigens). Peptide vaccines that present antigen proteins must accumulate near the lymphoid organs to elicit a better immune response; encapsulating the contents in nanodiscs allows for better delivery.

The possibilities for nanomaterial-mediated delivery are still being explored. Extensive clinical trials and better evaluation of cancer efficacy will allow for better immunotherapy treatments.


  1. W. Song, et al., Nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy. Biomaterials 148, 16-30 (2017). doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2017.09.017.
  2. Image retrieved from:

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