Researchers in Japan have created killer immune cells that can be grown in the lab and recognise melanoma skin cancer.
Writing in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Hiroshi Kawamoto and his team used so-called ‘Yamanaka factors’, named after the recent Nobel prizes-winner who discovered them, to turn killer T cells into immortal immune stem cells.
These stem cells were then grown in the lab to create a large number of cells, then turned back into T cells. Importantly, the original T cells had previously been trained to recognise melanoma cells, and they retained this memory even after the stem cell process.
The researchers suggest this could be a promising way to treat cancer - taking immune cells from a patient that can recognise their cancer, turning them into stem cells and growing them up in the lab to create millions of killer cells that can be transplanted back into the patient to destroy their disease.
Another team in Japan used the same technique to generate T cells that could destroy HIV. Despite the headlines in some papers, at the moment the scientists haven’t yet shown that these reprogrammed T cells can actually destroy tumour cells or combat HIV in mice, let alone humans. But it’s certainly an exciting new approach using an important new technology.