New Technology Optimizes Process for T-Cell Therapy

Rachel Kogan ‘19

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Figure 1. Genetically engineered T-cells may hold the key to treating a multitude of immune diseases.

T-Cells are cells involved in a particular form of immunity known as the cell-mediated immune response. The cell-mediate immune response does not utilize antibodies, or proteins that bind to and flag foreign substances as dangerous, and instead signals other cells to either engulf of attack these invaders. Typically, T-cells have been used therapeutically to treat certain forms of cancers as well as autoimmune diseases. However, obtaining T-cells that are specific to the ailment and mass-producing them is often tedious, expensive, and relatively inefficient.

Recently, researchers led by Alexander Marson of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, utilized CRISPR technology to genetically engineer T-cells. In the past, researchers utilized polymerase chain reaction (PCR) combined with viral vectors to insert genetically engineered genes into cells. This method was considered laborious, expensive, and relatively inefficient, as the viruses would often insert the DNA into the cell genome haphazardly and at undesired locations. CRISPR technology, a relatively novel genetic engineering process, allows for DNA to be created directly and inserted into a cell via electroporation. Electroporation involves using an electric field to briefly open up pores in the cell membrane to allow the DNA to enter. This process is more efficient and less expensive than using a viral vector.

Utilizing CRISPR technology to genetically engineer T-cells allows scientists to mass-produce the immune cell. Additionally, CRISPR allows the DNA to be edited and re-edited to best target the ailment in question. With these benefits, it is possible that CRISPR engineered T-cells may become a commonplace treatment, serving a greater population of individuals than was previously possible.

 

References

  1. A. Marson, et. al., Reprogramming human T cell function and specificity with non-viral genome targeting. Nature (2018). doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0326-5.  
  2. Image retrieved from: https://roundupreads.jsc.nasa.gov/pages.ashx/348/Precision
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