Today’s Research – Stems cells are potential source of cancer-fighting T cells

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine are actively working in Hershey, with colleagues at Penn State, University Park and other Penn State campuses, and with colleagues at various institutions across the country to conduct groundbreaking research. Their discoveries continue to contribute to the advancement of health care on all levels.

Adult stem cells from mice converted to antigen-specific T cells—the immune cells that fight cancer tumor cells— show promise in cancer immunotherapy and may lead to a simpler, more efficient way to use the body’s immune system to fight cancer, according to College of Medicine researchers. Jianxsun Song, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and immunology said, “Tumors grow in part because patients lack the kind of antigen-specific T cells needed to kill the cancer. An approach called adoptive T cell immunotherapy generates the T cells outside the body, which are then used inside the body to target cancer cells.” It is complex and expensive to expand T cell lines in the lab, so researchers have been searching for ways to simplify the process. Song and his team found a way to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, adult cells that are genetically changed to be stem cells.

By inserting DNA, researchers change the mouse iPS cells into immune cells and inject them into mice with tumors. After 50 days, 100 percent of the mice in the study were still alive, compared to 55 percent of control mice, which received tumor-reactive immune cells isolated from donors. Researchers reported their results and were featured as the cover story in a recent issue of the journal Cancer Research. Researchers are now studying how to use the process in human cells.

This study was funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Health using Tobacco Settlement Funds, the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust, and the Melanoma Research Foundation.

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