Skin Cells Modified to Fight Against Cancer

Researches from Sweden have found a procedure to transform skin cells into cancer-immune cells. A team of researchers from Lund University has successfully reprogrammed skin cells into dendritic cells. The initial test was carried out on mice which turned out to be successful. A recent test on human skin cells gave promising results.

The findings from the research have opened up a plethora of possibilities for cancer treatment. The process to convert the cells is quick and effective.

The research has aimed to merge two separate studies; stem cells and immunology. The breakthrough procedure would enable further advances in immunotherapy as dendritic cells can rally the immune system to fight against the cancerous tumors.

Carlos-Filipe Pereira, assistant professor at the Department of Laboratory Medicine has researched a lot on the reprogramming of cells for use in immunotherapy. Mr. Pereira said, “We are merging two different areas of research. One of them is reprogramming stem cells and the other is immunology. We can use it to make advances in immunology and cancer immunotherapy.”

Dendritic cells are tasked with scanning tissues for foreign particles and to act against them. They work by breaking down particles into antigens and then letting the T cells devour them. This way the T cells learn which cells to search for and kill.

The research team from Lund University achieved the modification of the skin cells by direct programming process. They identified and modified the PU.1, IRF8 and BATF3 proteins in the skin cells of mice to convert them into dendritic cells. Surprisingly enough, the same combination of proteins requires tweaks in the human skin cells as well.

Mr. Filipe Pereira, who lead the research, said, “From a tissue section taken from the skin, we can cultivate millions of cells and reprogram them to dendritic cells in a process that takes only nine days. Our study has shown that reprogrammed cells have the ability to effectively capture and present antigens to killer cells in the same way as ‘natural’ dendritic cells.”

Immunotherapy against cancer requires the cells from the immune system to fight against cancer. This treatment enables the body to identify and to eliminate the cancer cells. By the use of modified dendritic cells, which have been reprogrammed, the likelihood of successful treatment increases tenth fold.

“Tumors often undergo a number of mutations, developing into a heterogeneous entity, which makes it more difficult for the immune system to identify them as a threat. In a more creative perspective, we now want to explore the process of dendritic cell reprogramming to develop a cancer gene therapy.”

“We are aiming at injecting the three reprogramming proteins straight into the tumor forcing it to present their own tumor-specific antigens. This allows the activation of the killer cells against tumor cells and may lead to their elimination. We have named this concept TrojanDC in an analogy with Homer’s Trojan horse.”

“The great potential of this technology for cancer treatment lead us to start a new company together with Lund University for the development of this concept into a product that hopefully will reach cancer patients one day,” says Filipe Pereira.

Mr. Pereira further added, “Additionally, our studies open up the possibility of reprogramming other dendritic cell sub-types taking advantage of their distinct functional features. A better understanding of the mechanisms that determine the identity of immune sentinels and of how to use this knowledge to reprogram other cell types into dendritic cells could make these patient-specific cells useful in the clinic,”

With this technology, Mr. Pereira’s team is hopeful that they could come up with a gene therapy that could prove the all-important weapon against cancerous growths. The researchers may have made a breakthrough in the right direction but analysts believe that the commercial application of the said procedure could take as many as 10 years.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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