Magnetic nanoparticles could be key to effective immunotherapy

In recent years, researchers have hotly pursued immunotherapy, a promising form of treatment that relies on harnessing and training the body’s own immune system to better fight cancer and infection. Now, results of a study led by Johns Hopkins investigators suggests that a device composed of a magnetic column paired with custom-made magnetic nanoparticles may hold a key to bringing immunotherapy into widespread and successful clinical use. A summary of the research, conducted in mouse and human cells, appears online July 14 in the journal ACS Nano. The Johns Hopkins team focused on training and rapidly multiplying immune system white blood cells known as T cells because of their potential as an effective weapon against cancer, according to Jonathan Schneck, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of pathology, medicine and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Institute for Cell Engineering. “The challenge has been to train these cells efficiently enough, and get them to divide fast enough, that we could use them as the basis of a therapy for cancer patients. We’ve taken a big step toward solving that problem,” he says. In a bid to simplify and streamline immune cellular therapies, Schneck, Karlo Perica, a recent M.D./Ph.D. graduate who worked in Schneck’s lab, and others worked with artificial white blood cells. These so-called artificial antigen-presenting cells (aAPCs) were pioneered by Schneck’s lab and have shown promise in activating laboratory animals’ immune systems to attack cancer cells.  To do that, Perica explains, the aAPCs must interact with naive T cells already present in the body, awaiting instructions about which specific invader to target and battle. The aAPCs bind to specialized receptors on the T cells’ surfaces and “present” them with distinctive proteins called antigens. This process activates the T cells to ward off a virus, bacteria or tumor, as well as to make more T cells.

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aAPCs, artificial antigen-presenting cells, immunotherapy, Johns Hopkins Medicine

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