Scientists at UCLA have developed a technique for coaxing pluripotent stem cells, which can be grown indefinitely in the lab, into becoming mature T cells capable of killing tumor cells. The method uses artificial thymic organoids, which work by mimicking the environment of the thymus, the organ in which T cells develop from blood stem cells.
T cells are cells of the immune system that fight infections, but also have the potential to eliminate cancer cells. The ability to create them from self-renewing pluripotent stem cells using the UCLA technique could lead to new approaches to cancer immunotherapy and could spur further research on T cell therapies for viral infections such as HIV, and autoimmune diseases, according to the researchers. Among the method’s most promising aspects is that it can be combined with gene editing approaches to create a virtually unlimited supply of T cells able to be used across large numbers of patients, without the need to use a patient’s own T cells, added the scientists.
The study (“Organoid-Induced Differentiation of Conventional T Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells”), which was published in Cell Stem Cell, was led by senior author Gay Crooks, MD, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of pediatrics and co-director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.