Hypoxic tumor niches are chief causes of treatment resistance and tumor recurrence. Sickle erythrocytes’ (SSRBCs’) intrinsic oxygen-sensing functionality empowers them to access such hypoxic niches wherein they form microaggregates that induce focal vessel closure. In search of measures to augment the scale of SSRBC-mediated tumor vaso-occlusion, we turned to the vascular disrupting agent, combretastatin A-4 (CA-4). CA-4 induces selective tumor endothelial injury, blood stasis, and hypoxia but fails to eliminate peripheral tumor foci. In this article, we show that introducing deoxygenated SSRBCs into tumor microvessels treated with CA-4 and sublethal radiation (SR) produces a massive surge of tumor vaso-occlusion and broadly propagated tumor infarctions that engulfs treatment-resistant hypoxic niches and eradicates established lung tumors. Tumor regression was histologically corroborated by significant treatment effect. Treated tumors displayed disseminated microvessels occluded by tightly packed SSRBCs along with widely distributed pimidazole-positive hypoxic tumor cells. Humanized HbS-knockin mice (SSKI) but not HbA-knockin mice (AAKI) showed a similar treatment response underscoring SSRBCs as the paramount tumoricidal effectors. Thus, CA-4-SR–remodeled tumor vessels license SSRBCs to produce an unprecedented surge of tumor vaso-occlusion and infarction that envelops treatment-resistant tumor niches resulting in complete tumor regression. Strategically deployed, these innovative tools constitute a major conceptual advance with compelling translational potential.


Chiao-Wang Sun, Li-Chen Wu, Mamta Wankhede, Dezhi Wang, Jutta Thoerner, Lawrence Woody, Brian S. Sorg, Tim M. Townes, David S. Terman


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