Image from Sanford Health Organization

Cellular immunotherapy is a treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer and other infectious diseases. It consists in the extraction and cultivation in the laboratory of cells or T lymphocytes of the patient, who receives back those cells after increasing their number to fight against those pathologies. Thanks to the nanotechnology advances made in the last years, it is now possible to use an ample variety of machinery to enhance the capabilities of researchers, with electrospinning equipment and other specialized gear.

These types of therapies have proved to be very promising, but doing them takes time and money. Today, it takes a couple of weeks to prepare those cells to put the treatment into practice.

However, a group of scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle has developed a new immunotherapy strategy based on the reprogramming of T lymphocytes through the use of biodegradable nanoparticles.

The study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, explains how these nanoparticles can reprogram directly T cells in the patient’s body to locate and destroy cancer cells.

“Our technology is the first that can quickly program the ability to recognize tumors in T-lymphocytes without the need to extract and manipulate them in the laboratory,” explains Matthias Stephan, lead author of the study.

These biodegradable nanoparticles carry the chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, that localize and eliminate cancer cells. These receptors are those that adhere to T lymphocytes in a process that is normally performed in the laboratory during cellular immunotherapy treatments.

With this technique, the steps of “in-vitro” cultivation are saved, thus reducing the time in which the disease can be treated from its diagnosis. For experts, it is about turning the patient’s body into a kind of ‘genetic engineering laboratory’.

“I have never had cancer but if I was diagnosed I would like to start the treatment as soon as possible,” adds Stephan. “I want cellular immunotherapy to be a treatment option from the day of diagnosis and be able to be performed in environments close to patients.”

The team tested the effectiveness of their nanoparticles using a preclinical model of leukemia in mice. The results showed an improvement in the mean survival of 58 days, when the usual one is in two weeks.

Other applications of this model are planned to combat infectious diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS, however, they will still have to overcome several obstacles to approach testing in humans. The team works on new strategies to make the system safe for people.

In addition, the scientists collaborate with other research groups at the Fred Hutchinson center to use this same model in the treatment of solid tumors.
The authors foresee other applications to combat other types of diseases. In theory, nanoparticles can be modified to help patients whose immune systems need a boost but who can not wait several months for a conventional vaccine to do that. “We hope it can be used in the treatment of infectious diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS,” concludes Stephan.

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