Cancer research has made leaps and bounds in the past few decades, but the scourge of fast-dividing cancer cells still plagues people from all walks of life. Those with cancer, their families, and survivors hang onto the hope that one day a medical breakthrough will finally rid the world of the debilitating illness. That hope may lie in genetically modifying the body’s own cells to attack and destroy cancerous ones.
In 2015, a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco were able to successfully edit the human T cell genome. This was hailed as a potential application for cancer treatment as well as a way to combat immune deficiencies.
But until recently, bioengineers hadn’t been able to mimic the complex nature of human T cells. A team from UCLA managed to crack the case and demonstrated how it’s possible to mimic the shape, size, and flexibility which enable T cells to perform their basic functions of targeting and homing in on infections.
The immune system cannot work properly without T cells. T cells flow through the bloodstream to target and destroy infections that enter the body. These immune cells are capable of deforming to a quarter of their normal size, and ballooning to almost three times their original size. This flexibility helps them to fight off foreign substances.
The UCLA team, led by Dr. Alireza Moshaverinia, an assistant professor of prosthodontics at the university’s dental school, were motivated by the fact that natural T cells are difficult to use in research because they’re extremely delicate and tend to survive for only a few days.
“The complex structure of T cells and their multifunctional nature have made it difficult for scientists to replicate them in the lab,” Moshaverinia said. “With this breakthrough, we can use synthetic T cells to engineer more efficient drug carriers and understand the behavior of immune cells.”
“We were able to create a novel class of artificial T cells that are capable of boosting a host’s immune system by actively interacting with immune cells through direct contact, activation or releasing inflammatory or regulatory signals,” said Mohammad Mahdi Hasani-Sadrabadi, an assistant project scientist at UCLA. “We see this study’s findings as another tool to attack cancer cells and other carcinogens.”
Other scientists could use the same process to create various types of artificial cells, such as natural killer cells or microphages, for research on specific diseases or to help develop treatments. In the future, the approach could help scientists develop a database of a wide range of synthetic cells that mimic human cells.
The ability to create the artificial cells could be a key step toward more effective drugs to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases, and could lead to a better understanding of human immune cells’ behavior. Hopefully, such cells also could eventually be used to boost the immune system of people with cancer or immune deficiencies.
Study in Advanced Materials: Biomimicry Model: Mechanobiological Mimicry of Helper T Lymphocytes to Evaluate Cell–Biomaterials Crosstalk…