Center for Regenerative Medicine

Reprogramming of immune cells will help in fighting cancer

The amazing discovery of scientists will improve the treatment of autoimmune diseases and can potentially destroy cancer at an early stage. When the human immune system is unbalanced, or because of excessively active cells or cells that suppress its function, it causes a wide range of diseases — from psoriasis to cancer.

Scientists from the Gladstone Institute for the first time discovered a method of reprogramming T cells — a potential solution for fighting cancer. More precisely, they discovered how to turn pro-inflammatory cells that boost the immune system into anti-inflammatory cells that suppress it, and vice versa.

The researchers studied two types of cells. The former are called effector T cells — they activate the immune system to protect our body from various pathogens. The second — regulatory T-cells — help to control the immune system and prevent possible viral attacks from the environment.

«Our results can have a significant impact on the treatment of autoimmune diseases, as well as on stem cells and immuno-oncological methods of treatment,» said the senior research team at the Gladstone Institute and Ph.D. Sheng Ding.

A new approach for reprogramming T cells can have several medical applications. For example, in an autoimmune disease, effector T cells are activated, after which the human body begins to damage. Converting these cells into regulatory T cells could help reduce hyperactivity and restore balance to the immune system, thus eliminating the disease directly from its root.

The discovery of scientists at the Gladstone Institute can also improve stem cell therapy. Theoretically, the production of regulatory T cells can promote immunological tolerance (the body’s acceptance of a foreign gene as its own) and prevent the organism from rejecting newly transplanted cells.

«Our work can also contribute to ongoing research in the field of immuno-oncology and cancer treatment. This type of therapy does not directly target cancer, but rather works to activate the immune system so that it can recognize and attack cancer cells, «explained Tao Xu, a graduate student at Ding’s laboratory and first author of the study.

As is known, many cancers control regulatory T cells to suppress the immune system, creating an environment in which tumors can grow without detection. In such cases, the results of the team can be used to transform regulatory T cells into effector T cells in order to strengthen the immune system.