A recent study, published in Nature, examined whether or not stem cells could be modified to reduce their chance of rejection. Stem cell therapies are utilized in a wide array of diseases including Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, liver disease, and Type 1 diabetes. However, an all too common problem is that the stem cells are rejected.
These scientists came up with a yet to be considered solution. What if these cells could be stripped of their immune features so that they can’t trigger a rejection response?
The Evolution of Stem Cell Therapy
When scientists first uncovered that cells could be reprogrammed just by utilizing a certain protein, the field of regenerative medicine changed forever. These proteins allow the adult cells to go back to their embryonic-like stem cell state. In this state, they can essentially become a cell for any organ in the body.
When the cells are derived from the patient themselves they’re called autologous stem cells. While currently these cells are considered the best option with the least risk of side effects and the best chance of acceptance, they’re still far from perfect. Since the cells have already been in the patient, there is a smaller chance that the body will illicit an immune response. However, a study demonstrated that even the most minute genetic mutations in the mitochondrial DNA of a cell can create an immune response in the body.
This is the biggest issue with stem cell therapy. When cells are seen as foreign, the body rejects them. To combat this, patients are prescribed high doses of immunosuppressive drugs. However, these medications are not foolproof and are not ideal themselves due to their significant side effects.
The goal then became to create a large collection of stem cells, all with diverse characteristics and antigens. With a sizable collection, the stem cells could be matched to the best possible recipient, who would have the least chance of rejection. However, this collection is still far from where it is dreamed to be.
A New Type of Cell
Instead of just waiting for the collection of stem cells to rise, scientists began working to improve the use of patients’ own stem cells. The problem is that neoantigens can can occur in the patient’s own cells spontaneously, which makes them susceptible to rejection.
To navigate around that problem, Tobias Deuse and colleagues are trying to engineer the cells so that they no longer contain any immune features at all. Gene editing technology allowed them to to try this technique with mice, and the success was clear. They were the very first to produce cells that circumvented rejection 100%.
Ultimately, the hope is that this new process for gene editing could lead to the manufacturing of what they call “universal cell products” for patients. It could revolutionize not only the healthcare system as a whole, but most importantly, patient outcomes and wellbeing.
You can read more about this novel research here.