Gene-editing therapies have made almost constant news headlines in relations to cancer treatment. The process of reprogramming the body’s immune cells to fight cancer seems more and more promising. The treatments have been tested on such cancer as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Perhaps one of the biggest problems, however, has been the increasing demand for these treatments. There simply hasn’t been an adequate mass scale delivery system developed yet. Now, new research from Alexander Marson at University of California at San Francisco proposes a new method for reprogramming T-cells. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here for more information.
The current generation of gene-editing therapies involves sourcing immune cells (white blood cells known as T-cells) from the patient. These cells are then modified in a lab to be able to detect and combat whatever cancer the patient has. These reprogrammed cells are then injected back into the patient’s body using disabled viruses. These viral vectors, however, can take several years to develop. Only a few companies currently exist which are capable of producing the necessary viral vectors involved in gene-editing therapies.
A Shocking Development
New research published in the journal Nature by Marson and his team proposed a new method for reprogramming cells. The new technique successfully used an electric shock rather than the viral vector method. Researchers were able to electrically stimulate T-cells which relaxed the membranes surrounding the cells. This allowed for new material to be added into the cells.
Researchers found that after administering the shock, chains of edited genes merely needed to float nearby the electrocuted cells in order to be integrated into the T-cells. Using CRISPR-Cas9, the new molecular material was able to be successfully absorbed and attached to the cell’s nucleus.
It is not known yet why the shock seems to work, but the process, known as electroporation, has been used in previous examples to insert genetic material into cells. Harvard researchers, for example were able to use the technique to insert a short video of a galloping horse into bacteria.
Oxford University’s Vincenzo Cerundolo (director of the university’s Human Immunology Unit) describes the electroporation process as a “turning point.” He predicts it will allow for cheaper therapies and less time spent developing the necessary components. Cerundolo imagines it will be possible to prepare for gene-editing therapies in as little as a few weeks rather than months at a time.
Vice president of research at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco, Fred Ramsdell describes the method presented in Marson’s research as “extraordinarily significant.” He continues to explain how the technology expands the options available to the research community in regards to gene-editing therapies. Ramsdell imagines it leading to a number of new, creative, and unique ways to interact with T-cells.