January 2013

Immune system 'booster' may hit cancer
By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News

Vast numbers of cells that can attack cancer and HIV have been grown in
the lab, and could potentially be used to fight disease.

The cells naturally occur in small numbers, but it is hoped injecting
huge quantities back into a patient could turbo-charge the immune

The Japanese research is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Experts said the results had exciting potential, but any therapy would
need to be shown to be safe.

The researchers concentrated on a type of white blood cell known as a
cytotoxic T-cell, which can recognise telltale markings of infection or
cancer on the surfaces of cells. If a marking is recognised, it launches
an attack.

Teams at the University of Tokyo and the Riken Research Centre for
Allergy and Immunology used advances in stem cell technology to make
more T-cells.

One group extracted T-cells which targeted a patient's skin cancer.
Another group did the same for HIV.

Continue reading the main story “Start QuoteThe next step will be to
test whether these T-cells can selectively kill tumour cells, but not
other cells in the body” End Quote Dr Hiroshi Kawamoto Researcher These
T-cells were converted into stem cells, which could dramatically
increase in number when grown in the laboratory. These were converted
back into T-cells which should also have the ability to target the
cancer or HIV.

New weapon?

The groups have proved only that they can make these cells, not that
they can be safely put back into patients or that if would make a
difference to their disease if they did.

Dr Hiroshi Kawamoto, who worked on the cancer immune cells at Riken,
said: "The next step will be to test whether these T-cells can
selectively kill tumour cells, but not other cells in the body.

"If they do, these cells might be directly injected into patients for
therapy. This could be realized in the not-so-distant future."

Dr Hiromitsu Nakauchi from the University of Tokyo said it was "unclear"
whether this technique would help in treating HIV and that other
infections and cancer may be a better place to start.

'Very exciting'

Experts in the field said the findings were encouraging.

Prof Alan Clarke, the director of the European Cancer Stem Cell Research
Institute at Cardiff University, said: "This is a potentially very
exciting development which extends our capacity to develop novel cell

He said it was important that cells could be tailored for each patient
so there would be no risk of rejection.

Other experts said the findings were still at an early stage, but were
still very promising and represented a strong foundation for future
research. However, Cancer Research UK said it was still too early to
know if any therapy would be safe.

Prof Sir John Burn, from the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle
University, said: "This is a very appealing concept and the research
team are to be congratulated on demonstrating the feasibility of
expanding these killer cells.

However he added: "Even if these T cells are effective, it could prove
very challenging to produce large quantities safely and economically.

"Nevertheless, there is real promise of this becoming an alternative
when conventional therapies have failed."


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