Researchers have reprogrammed normal human cells to create designer immune cells capable of detecting and destroying cancer cells.
researchers have recently used T-cells engineered in the laboratory to combat tumours. Modified to include additional functions, these immune cells can hunt down and kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, however, such immune cell therapies can have significant side-effects. On top of that, the production of modified T-cells is technically challenging. Now a team of researchers led by ETH Professor Martin Fussenegger from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basel has come up with an innovative and simplified approach for producing therapeutically effective synthetic designer cells to combat cancer. The researchers have built three additional components into human renal cells and (adipose) stem cells, thereby transforming them into synthetic designer cells that mimic T-cells.
One of the components of synthetic T-cells entails molecular antennae protruding well outside the membrane. Also embedded within the cell membrane are antibodies with specific docking sites, which can sense the target structures of the cancer cell and bind to them. The third component is a gene network that generates a molecule complex. This molecule complex comprises a molecular “warhead” that penetrates the membrane of the target cell. It is linked to a converter molecule that activates an anti-cancer substance in the tumour cell’s interior.
The precursor of this active substance needs to be added to the system externally. Cancer cells absorb this substance, and the converter module transforms it from an inactive to inactive state. The cancer cells bursts, the active substance is released and destroys other tumour cells in the “death zone” around the synthetic T-cell. “This bystander effect makes our synthetic T-cells even more effective,” Professor Fussenegger explains.