Scientists create a renewable source of cancer-fighting T cells
A study done at UCLA has made progressive steps towards a technique that coaxed pluripotent stem cells, or stem cells that can ‘differentiate’ into any cell, to be grown in a lab to become mature T cells that are capable of eliminating tumor cells.
The method makes use of a structure known as artificial thymic organoids that simulate the thymus environment. It’s also the organ where T cells are created from stem cells in the blood.
Inherently, T-cells are protective cells of the immune system variety, but they also have the ability to kill cancer cells. The UCLA study revealed that self-renewing pluripotent stem cells can lead to new cancer immunotherapy treatments and new advancements in terms of advancing T cell therapy for autoimmune diseases and viral infections. What’s noteworthy is the fact that the technique may be used in conjunction with gene editing to produce virtually unlimited T cells and without the need to use the patient’s own cells in the process.
Dr. Gay Crooks, Eli and Edythe Center for Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research laboratory and pathology professor, co-director and senior author, has published the results in Stem Cell Journal.
Therapies involving the use of T cells, including the CAR T-cell have shown promise in treating a few types of cancer. The current methods involve collecting the patient’s T cells, using a gene editing tool to insert a receptor which directs the cell to find and destroy cancerous cells, and putting it back into the patient. But there are inherent problems with it, e.g., the patient doesn’t have enough T cells, it’s expensive, and doesn’t always work well.
Dr. Crooks’ technique can solve current roadblocks by making T-cell therapy more effective, affordable and accessible. Crooks reports that the team uses pluripotent stem cells at the start, which may be combined with gene editing tools to produce ‘off-the-shelf’ therapies that can be made available for all cancer patients.
Other research involving T cells have reported minimal success in their efforts to combine pluripotent stem cells with supporting cells. Unfortunately, the T cells that were produced were unable to become mature T cells that could eliminate cancer cells.
The UCLA team constructed an artificial thymic organoid in 3D, which was tested to allow T cells to be created from an adult’s blood stem cells. Observation suggested that the structure could also support T cell maturation which originated from pluripotent stem cells. Dr. Crooks stated that the organoid’s 3D structure was created to be conducive for the T cells to mature and develop properly.
The UCLA research has proven that their artificial thymic organoids had the ability to turn T cells into mature cells from two kinds of stem cells – from induced pluripotent material, created by reprogramming blood or skin cells from adult sources, and embryonic stem cells, created from donated embryos. Furthermore, pluripotent stem cells were found to be editable via genetic means, which allowed the researchers to add a T cell receptor that targets cancer cells in mice.
Associate project scientist and study co-author Amelie Montel-Hagen mentioned that once the team is able to create lines of pluripotent stem cells that have the T-cell specific markers in the artificial thymic organoids, the material could be expanded as needed in an indefinite manner. An unlimited supply of cancer-fighting T cells could mean a major breakthrough in the field of cancer treatment and therapies.
The scientists over at UCLA are looking to hurdle a final challenge in their stem cell research. The T cells that were made via the 3D artificial thymic organoids had an additional molecule that hasn’t been matched with individual patients. This extra molecule could cause the subject’s system to reject the T cells.
UCLA clinical instructor of the oncology and hematology department and co-author of the study, Dr. Christopher Seet, states that the next evolution of the study is to remove the extra molecule that’s causing the host to reject the stem cells. The team may have to start creating new T cells that have cancer-fighting receptors but without the molecule. When this is achieved, universal T cell therapy and treatment is expected to take a major step forward.
As of the moment, the study only involves mice and more research is needed, but it can be a turning point in the battle against cancer.
To your health,
The Healing Miracle Team
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