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Meet The Bionic Thymus: The Artificial Organ For Pumping T Cells For Cancer Treatment

12 April 2017, 10:49 am EDT By Kalyan Kumar Tech Times
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An artificial thymus that turns blood stem cells into disease fighting T-cells has been developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). T-cells seek out cancerous cells with their receptors and weed out malignant cells.  ( UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center/Nature Methods )

A team from the University of California, Los Angeles has successfully used an artificial thymus to turn blood stem cells into T cells. The UCLA researchers created the artificial organoid as a useful tool in reducing the time and cost of T cell immunotherapy for patients with a low count of white blood cells.

Located near the heart, the thymus makes T cells out of blood stem cells to fight off infections. T cells are essentially white blood cells combating ills in the immune system. The UCLA-developed thymus can generate T cells that can attack cancerous tissues while sparing the healthy ones.

Functionally, the thymus produces natural T cells that carry specialized molecules called receptors that are capable of highlighting cells infected by cancers and viruses. However, the efficiency of the thymus decreases because of disease or old age. Many diseases start dodging the T cell scrutiny when the thymus weakens.

The UCLA research shows that it is possible to create engineered versions of T cells to fight specific diseases like cancer.

Methodology Of Experiments

The research was led by UCLA pathology professor Dr. Gay Crooks and project scientist Amelie Montel-Hagen. The study was published in Nature Methods.

"We know that the key to creating a consistent and safe supply of cancer-fighting T cells would be to control the process in a way that deactivates all T cell receptors in the transplanted cells, except for the cancer-fighting receptors," Crooks said.

The UCLA team's artificial thymus can produce T cells from stem cells and even donated blood. They discovered that the artificially created T cells had a wide range of T cell receptors functionally similar to T cells produced by a real thymus.

The researchers were able to test the artificial thymic organ for its ability to produce cancer-specific T cells backed by appropriate receptors for specific diseases such as cancer.

Using a gene, the researchers inserted a cancer-fighting receptor into the blood stem cells and the response they had was encouraging. The artificial organ produced a large number of cancer-specific T cells to turn off other T cell receptors.

The experiments showed that the specially made T cells can fight cancer without hurting healthy tissues. The method has not been tested in humans, however.

Adoptive T Cell Immunotherapy

Thanks to adoptive T cell immunotherapy, there is the option to add cancer-seeking receptors to T cells in expanding the frontier of research.

This is done by collecting T cells from patients, reprogramming these with new receptors, and returning them into the body. The artificial thymus will develop cancer-fighting T cells on demand.

Meanwhile, a new study found early-stage breast cancer can have many treatments varying in value, cost, and effectiveness.

The study identified 105,211 women with early-stage cancer and treatment complications within 24 months of diagnosis.

They had treatment options such as lumpectomy, breast irradiation therapy, brachytherapy, mastectomy, and reconstruction.

It said more women are undergoing bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction during the early stages of the cancer because of fear of recurrence.

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