Sickle cells abolish melanoma tumorigenesis in hemoglobin SS knockin mice and augment the tumoricidal effect of oncolytic virus in vivo

Chiang Wang Sun, Candice Willmon, Li Chen Wu, Peter Knopick, Jutta Thoerner, Richard Vile, Tim M. Townes, David S. Terman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Insights from the study of cancer resistance in animals have led to the discovery of novel anticancer pathways and opened new venues for cancer prevention and treatment. Sickle cells (SSRBCs) from subjects with homozygous sickle cell anemia (SCA) have been shown to target hypoxic tumor niches, induce diffuse vaso-occlusion, and potentiate a tumoricidal response in a heme- and oxidant-dependent manner. These findings spawned the hypothesis that SSRBCs and the vasculopathic microenvironment of subjects with SCA might be inimical to tumor outgrowth and thereby constitute a natural antitumor defense. We therefore implanted the B16F10 melanoma into humanized hemoglobin SS knockin mice which exhibit the hematologic and vasculopathic sequelae of human SCA. Over the 31-day observation period, hemoglobin SS mice showed no significant melanoma outgrowth. By contrast, 68-100% of melanomas implanted in background and hemoglobin AA knockin control mice reached the tumor growth end point (p < 0.0001). SS knockin mice also exhibited established markers of underlying vasculopathy, e.g., chronic hemolysis (anemia, reticulocytosis) and vascular inflammation (leukocytosis) that differed significantly from all control groups. Genetic differences or normal AA gene knockin do not explain the impaired tumor outgrowth in SS knockin mice. These data point instead to the chronic pro-oxidative vasculopathic network in these mice as the predominant cause. In related studies, we demonstrate the ability of the sickle cell component of this system to function as a therapeutic vehicle in potentiating the oncolytic/vasculopathic effect of RNA reovirus. Sickle cells were shown to efficiently adsorb and transfer the virus to melanoma cells where it induced apoptosis even in the presence of anti-reovirus neutralizing antibodies. In vivo, SSRBCs along with their viral cargo rapidly targeted the tumor and initiated a tumoricidal response exceeding that of free virus and similarly loaded normal RBCs without toxicity. Collectively, these data unveil two hitherto unrecognized findings: Hemoglobin SS knockin mice appear to present a natural barrier to melanoma tumorigenesis while SSRBCs demonstrate therapeutic function as a vehicle for enhancing the oncolytic effect of free reovirus against established melanoma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number166
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 8 2016


  • Melanoma
  • Neoangiogenesis
  • Oncolytic viruses
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • Sickle cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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