Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have made a major advance in the battle against cancer by showing that it’s possible to create mature T cells with important cancer-killing receptors from pluripotent stem cells.
This was achieved by using structures called artificial thymic organoids, which mimic the environment of the thymus, referring to the organ in which T cells develop from blood stem cells.
“Using living T cells to kill cancer cells is one of the most exciting areas of cancer treatment,” Christopher Seet, a clinical instructor in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Digital Trends. “The idea here would be to use self-renewing pluripotent stem cells to make unlimited numbers of T cells in the lab, which could be used directly in patients. With certain tweaks, pluripotent stem cells can be genetically engineered to make T cells that would work in any individual. [This] could make T cell immunotherapies cheaper and more widely available. Currently, T cell therapies use a patient’s own T cells and it takes time and great expense to genetically engineer these T cells and give them back to the patient. In some cases, patients may not qualify if they’re too sick, don’t have enough T cells, or the cell quality is not good enough. Faster and cheaper ‘off-the-shelf’ approaches to T cell therapies are badly needed to bring these treatments to more patients.”
This “off-the-shelf” approach could ultimately work to make T cell therapies more accessible, more affordable, and — perhaps most importantly — more effective. There’s still a way to go until this work rolls out to patients, but it is extremely promising.
“Our next goal is to engineer the pluripotent stem cells to make T cells that are suited for treating any individual,” Seet continued. “To do this we need to make sure that the T cells we make are not rejected by a patient’s immune system, and also specifically attack a patient’s tumor cells and not the rest of their body. We can achieve this by engineering these traits in the stem cells, and indeed our goal is to make T cells that not only can be given to any individual, but may function better than T cells from the blood.”
A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Other researchers on the work included Gay Crooks and Amélie Montel-Hagen.