All Japan newsese premiere: scientists have created cancer-killing cells that can be directly injected into patients. The cells are called T lymphocytes and are specialized in killing cancer cells. Although they naturally can be found in small numbers, experts hope that injecting patients with huge quantities will help “turbo-charge” their immune system.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo and RIKEN Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology extracted live T-cells, an important part of the human immune system, which fights against diseases. T-cells were then converted back to their original state of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
iPS are not adult stem cells, but rather adult cells which are obtained artificially and reprogrammed to give rise to pluripotent capabilities. The conversion was made in order to study the stem cells’ differentiation processes.
Then, scientists reconverted the stem cells back into specialized disease-fighters, the T lymphocytes. Why have the scientists bothered to convert cells to a pluripotent stage, only to reconvert them to their original state? Because stem cells can be grown at a much faster pace in a laboratory than in the human body, allowing researchers to create killer T lymphocytes that are—at least theoretically—ready for therapeutic human injection.
It is not sure, though, if the artificial cells will behave similarly to the immune system’s own disease-fighters when injected into the human body. The body could reject the new cells, considering the cells come from one patient and are converted for use in another, scientists say.
But the main risk is, however, that the killer cells might not restrict their deadly effects to cancer cells, but also attack healthy human cells. Lead researcher Hiroshi Kawamoto stated that “the next step will be to test whether these T cells can selectively kill tumor cells but not other cells in the body.”
Although “a lot of work needs to be done before we can think about clinical trials, the initial data are promising,” Dr. Dusko Ilic, Senior Lecturer in Stem Cell Science at King’s College London said.