This experimental therapy can boost up certain immune cells that can fight different cancers. These cells are the invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT).
In a human body, these cells are usually present in less number. In most humans, they are approximately less than 0.1% of total blood cells.
This limits the understanding of the extent to which they can fight cancer and suppress a tumor’s growth. However, they have the potential to be used in the modern anticancer immunotherapy.
The success of the new immunotherapy in mouse models
The research team used mouse models having different cancers to precisely observe the potential of iNKT cells in fighting cancer.
Researchers stated that the most incredible thing about the therapy is that we can provide the treatment for once. Only by one therapy session, this boosts up the level of iNKT cells to a certain level. The resultant number of iNKT cells is enough to fight cancer for a lifetime.
Researchers explained in the study paper that the iNKT cells are somehow special among other immune cells. The reason is that they can remarkably target cells of multiple cancers at the same time.
The cancer patients having naturally high levels of iNKT cells live longer than those with low levels of the cells.
Lili Yang, the senior author of this study said that the iNKT cells are really very powerful cells against cancer. However, their presence in a small number in human blood (naturally) does not make a therapeutic difference.
After their recent experiments regarding the potential of iNKT cells, the researchers wanted to develop a therapy. The aim of therapy development was to stimulate the increased production of iNKT cells in the body on permanent basis.
The developmental phase of the new immunotherapy
To develop the therapy, scientists used genetic engineering. They isolated the hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) from bone marrow. Later, they genetically engineered HSC to develop into iNKT cells.
The scientists named the developed cells as “Hematopoietic stem cell-engineered invariant natural killer T cells” (HSC-iNKT).
Researchers then introduced the HSC-iNKT cells in different mouse models. They prepared these models by transferring the human bone marrow and cancers of human origin into the mice. The cancers included both melanoma (lid tumors) as well as multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer).
The team observed that the HSC-iNKT cells successfully developed into mature iNKT cells. The cells suppressed both melanoma and multiple myeloma. And the most impressive result was that the effect lasted for the whole life of the mice.
Researchers also stated that the proportion of iNKT cells in experimental mice group was 60% of the total T cells. This occurred due to HSC-iNKT therapy in these mice.
Researchers said that they can also control the number of iNKT cells produced in mice. This is done by making fine adjustments to HSC-iNKT cell programming.
The researchers have performed the therapy on a pre-clinical basis. However, the researchers believe that the therapy results in humans are also promising.
The findings of this experimental study are published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.