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Apr 13, 2017 09:36 AM EDT

UCLA Develops Artificial Thymus That Produces Cancer-Fighting T Cells [VIDEO]

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Recent advancements in biomedical technologies may one day make it unnecessary and obsolete for patients requiring transplants to wait for donations to replace vital organs. Scientists at UCLA have contributed by adding the thymus to the list of body parts that can now be artificially simulated.

The thymus gland is a vital part of the immune system that produces a type of white blood cell called T cells that help to fight off any foreign intrusion in the body such as viruses, bacterial infections, and cancer cells.

Researchers at the UCLA has created artificial thymic organoids that produce T cells from blood stem cells. Their findings could be employed to engineer T cells to locate and destroy cancer cells. What the researchers developed could be an important step toward replicating a steady supply of T cells for treating many forms of cancer.

When people get sick or as the body ages, the immune system, which includes the thymus, deteriorate in its function and become less efficient in producing T cells. This would be problematic for people who are susceptible to illnesses or are afflicted with various types of cancer, for they will lack the biological support needed from T cells.

Adoptive T cell immunotherapy is not only time consuming but also relies on the patient actually having enough of these cells to be "fixed" and then transfusing them back, unfortunately, most patients do not. The life-saving procedure created by the team begins by inserting a gene for cancer-fighting receptors into blood stem cells.

The process caused artificial thymic organoids to produce only cancer-specific T cells. By creating cancer-specific T cells, cancer cells can be targeted, eliminated and will not cause autoimmunity problems, Futurism reported.

The researchers' preclinical study, published in Nature Methods, details how it can potentially attain a more sustainable supply of these life-saving cells. The team is calling on other scientists to reproduce their work. Additionally, the researchers are currently looking into using their new technique with pluripotent stem cells.

Most modern cancer treatments are costly, dangerous to healthy tissues, not effective enough or a combination of these. Although UCLA's patented artificial structure still has to undergo years of clinical trials and human testing, it brings promise in guaranteeing the creation of healthy cancer-targeted T cells.

The approach also eliminates the dependency on the patient's own T cells to be removed and engineered before being returned through transfusion. The approach would make it possible for people with varying degrees of illness to have equal access to treatment.

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