Stem cells offer new hope in fight against cancer

Penn State College of Medicine researchers have suggested that adult stem cells from mice when converted to antigen-specific T cells, the immune cells that fight cancer tumor cells, show promise in cancer immunotherapy.

The finding may lead to a simpler, more efficient way to use the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

“Cancer immunotherapy is a promising method to treat cancer patients,” said Jianxsun Song, Ph.D., assistant professor, microbiology and immunology.

“Tumors grow because patients lack the kind of antigen-specific T cells needed to kill the cancer. An approach called adoptive T cell immunotherapy generates the T cells outside the body, which are then used inside the body to target cancer cells,” he added.

Song and his team found a way to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are adult cells that are genetically changed to be stem cells.

“Any cell can become a stem cell. It’s a very good approach to generating the antigen-specific T cells and creates an unlimited source of cells for adoptive immunotherapy,” said Song.

By inserting DNA, the researchers change the mouse iPS cells into immune cells and inject them into mice with tumors.

After 50 days, 100 percent of the mice in the study were still alive, compared to 55 percent of control mice, which received tumor-reactive immune cells isolated from donors.

A limitation of this therapy is that it currently takes at least six weeks for the iPS cells to develop into T cells in the body.

The researchers are now studying how to use the process in human cells.

The results appear in a recent issue of the journal Cancer Research.

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