Designer Cells: The Future of Medicine?

According to WBUR, treatments like CAR-T and CRISPR are on the cutting edge. They’re important to keep an eye on as the future of medical technology and treatment. They’re not just medical news, they’re entirely novel ways of treating disease that never existed before the modern era. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about the world of biologics and designer cells.

The 19th century was a big turning point in medicine. In 1885, Friedrich Bayer and Co. investigated a better way to produce salicylic acid. This development would ultimately lead to the creation of Aspirin. With this newly minted drug came an end to thousands of years of folk remedies. This chemical age of medicine lasted through most of the 20th century. A fuller understanding of DNA, however, led many scientists to begin investigating genes and the unique qualities of cells.

The investigations into genetics and cell structure led to what is referred to as the biologics era of medicine. Many modern therapies fall into this category. Drugs such as Humira (adalimumab), Avastin (bevacizumab), and Herceptin (trastuzumab) all belong to the biologics category.

Now, the future appears to be based on an even more specific genetic approach. Early developers like Genzyme began the movement by focusing on rare diseases originating from genetic disorders. These diseases, such as Gaucher disease and Fabry disease, typically occur as a result of the body’s inability to produce a necessary protein. Genzyme was able to artificially create enzymes that would replace those deficient in conditions like Gaucher and Fabry disease.

From there, companies such as CRISPR (a name shared with their powerful gene editing therapy) were able to create more and more powerful and innovative forms of treatment. In the case of CRISPR technology, it is possible to entirely remove part of a genetic sequence, and replace it with a different one. It allows for damage to be repaired from genetic abnormalities, and may even be able to prevent certain cancers.

According to original author Jonathan Thon (co-founder and CEO of Platelet BioGenesis) innovation does not, however, stop here. CRISPR and similar technologies currently allow researchers to work with a patient’s original cells and genetics.

The future Thon sees, is one in which it is possible to create a cell by design. That is to say, a cell could be created as needed wholly in the lab with a specific purpose. Thon envisions the coming medical era as a “golden age of designer cell therapy.”

Immuno-oncology, Thon says, proves the effectiveness of the concept. Using designed cells, it is possible to train the human body to detect and battle cancer cells when they appear. He continues to describe a type of platelet cell his company is developing which will be able to deliver biologic drugs directly to the sites of cancer within the body.

While it is too early to completely determine the success of these treatments, the possibilities and potential appear to be endless.


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