Hybrid T cells may offer potent and durable cancer treatment

November 09, 2017
Dr. Shikhar Mehrotra
Dr. Shikhar Mehrotra led a research team looking for new ways to engineer T-cells to fight cancer.

Medical University of South Carolina investigators have found a way to boost the cancer-fighting power of T-cells in the laboratory by blending two types, Th17 cells and Th1 cells. They describe their results in a Cell Metabolism article published today.

Shikhar Mehrotra, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery and co-scientific director of the Center for Cellular Therapy at MUSC, led the research team. 

"We've known about how T-cells can fight tumors for more than three decades,” he said. “However, for a long time the focus was on Th1 cells because they seemed to be most important. They secrete interferon-gamma, which can directly kill the tumor and also draw in other cells to help fight the cancer.

Over the last ten years, researchers realized it's more important to have a T-cell with long-lasting function. That’s where the longer-lived Th17 cells came in. “It took us some time to figure out how to put them together [with Th1 cells] in a manner that they can also keep their useful traits when injected into the patient. It took us a while to get the right recipe."

Their work is part of a larger search for cancer treatments focusing on immunotherapies that harness the body's own defenses to fight tumors. Adoptive cell therapy, or ACT, can control some cancers but has drawbacks. 

To administer ACT, T-cells are removed from the patient and cultivated in a laboratory for weeks or months, until a massive number of cells are available to be injected back into the patient. But during that time, the T-cells often lose potency and life span.

A lot of research has been aimed at improving ACT effectiveness by enhancing anti-tumor T-cell strength and persistence. While researchers have made incremental progress, it’s been difficult to create a T-cell that incorporates both desirable anti-tumor attributes — long-term survival and highly-effective cancer fighting—until now.

“The method to program T-cells with this cocktail is available through investigators for use in patients for any ongoing T-cell adoptive immunotherapy protocols,” Mehrotra said. 

For more details on this study, check out this EurekAlert.