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Stem cells can “mass-produce” patient’s own cancer-fighting immune cells

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Researchers have used stem cell technology to produce large quantities  of cultured cells that can attack and kill cancer and viral infections. These can potentially be injected back into the patient’s body to support exhausted immune systems against cancer, HIV, or viral infections.

Our bodies naturally produce T cells, a type of white blood cell that recognises and attacks cells with the markings of infection or cancer. However, their short life spans and limited numbers make them ineffective against aggressive invasions.

The researchers took these T cells from patients’ bodies and reprogrammed them into stem cells. These were then grown under ideal laboratory conditions for growth and an improved lifespan. The stem cells were reprogrammed back into T cells that had the same cancer and HIV-infected cell targeting ability, but in much larger numbers and with much longer lifespans.

One study was carried out on an HIV-positive patient, while another was carried out on a patient with skin cancer. Although the studies successfully ‘mass-produced’ the required cells, the artificially-generated T cells must still be shown to be clinically safe. It is currently unknown whether they will kill healthy tissue cells as well as the targeted cells.

The researcher teams, from the University of Tokyo and the Riken Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology, published their results in Cell Stem Cell.

Source: Science Daily, BBC Science