A fourteen-year-old cancer patient has gone into full remission after partaking in the clinical trial of a stem cell therapy conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The recently approved FDA treatment, also known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell [CAR T cell] therapy, works by obtaining autologous (the patient’s own) immune stem cells, genetically altering and expanding them to recognize a specific molecule on the surface of cancer cells and become targeted cancer killers. In this case, it was used to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) originating in the B cells.
Researchers at UCLA have developed a ‘bionic thymus’ capable of transforming blood stem cells into T cells of the immune system that can be targeted to attack cancer cells. During the transformation, the researchers were also able to incorporate a tumor-targeting gene in anticipation of utilizing the cells to fight cancers. T Cell production is a long and complex biological process in the body and many cancer patients may not have enough of their own T cells to collect and direct to combat their cancer. Therefore, the creation of an artificial thymus has the potential to resolve this issue. The process also shuts off the expression of normal T cell surface receptors, which the researchers believe may enable the cells to be used by other patients without the risk of rejection.