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Mass-Engineering of Cells for Cancer Therapies

18 November 2019
Giulio Prisco

Cell Manufacturing

What if you could cure cancer by re-engineering patients’ cells to better target and destroy their own tumors? “With the advent of powerful new cellular engineering technologies, this is no longer the stuff of science fiction,” notes a UC Riverside press release.

A new microfluidic technology dubbed deterministic mechanoporation (DMP) can mass-produce, at low cost, engineered cells with holes that allow for delivering genes (see below).

“This simple, but elegant nanomechanical poration approach provides significant advantages relative to existing gene delivery techniques,” said research leader Masaru Rao. “For example, since viral vectors make up a large fraction of the overall manufacturing cost of current cell therapies, their elimination through the use of DMP holds potential for considerable cost reduction.”

“In fact, in our paper we show that DMP can engineer primary human T cells, the same kind of cells used in CAR-T therapies, with efficiencies that exceed a state-of-the-art electroporation tools by more than four-fold,” said Rao.

Science fiction indeed, and an exciting future ahead.

New Device Punches Holes in Cells for Gene Delivery

Engineers at UC Riverside and City of Hope National Medical Center have invented a microfluidic device that addresses one of the most costly steps in the engineered cell therapy manufacturing process, namely gene delivery.

Deterministic mechanoporation, or DMP, uses fluid flow to pull each cell in a large population onto its own tiny needle, as described in a research paper published in Nano Letters.

The flow is then reversed to release the cells from the needles, leaving a singular and precisely defined pore within each cell that allows for gene delivery. Eliminating viral vectors can substantially reduce cost.

Inhalable Nanoparticles for Lung Cancer Immunotherapy

Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Health have developed a new approach to treating lung cancer with inhaled nanoparticles.

A proof of concept study published in Nature Communications describes a nanoparticle-immunotherapy system that delivered immunostimulants via inhalation to a mouse model of metastatic lung cancer.

The results are encouraging, and the new inhalable immunotherapy appears to present several key advantages to previous methods.

Protein Drives Growth of Pancreatic Cancer

Scientists at Francis Crick Institute have identified a protein that drives growth of pancreatic cancer, and which could be a target for new treatments.

A study published in Nature Cell Biology shows that a protein, called CD9, is present in pancreatic cancer stem cells. This protein could therefore be used as a marker to help locate these cells.

The study further established that this protein is not just a marker of cancer stem cells, but also promotes their malignant behaviour, which could guide the development of new treatments that are targeted at the protein.

Anthrax Virus Can Target Cancer While Ignoring Healthy Cells

Researchers at Purdue University, supported by partners at Indiana University, MIT, and Harvard University, have found a way to combine the anthrax toxin with a growth factor to kill bladder cancer cells and tumors.

The research results, published in International Journal of Cancer, are promising and suggest the possibility of new therapies able to kill cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Injectable Flexible Electrodes for Nerve Stimulation

University of Wisconsin-Madison biomedical engineers and their collaborators have made a significant advance that could dramatically reduce the cost of neuromodulation therapy, increase its reliability, and make it much less invasive.

By electrically stimulating nerves, neuromodulation therapies can reduce epileptic seizures, soothe chronic pain, and treat depression and a host of other health conditions without the use of conventional drugs like opioids.

The engineers have developed a new type of electrode dubbed "injectrode," described in a research paper published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, which can be injected as a liquid and then cure in the body.

According to the engineers, this could eventually result in a new kind of neural interface system.

CRISPR Can Provide Universal Electrochemical Biosensors

Case Western Reserve University researchers have converted the CRISPR 'recognition induced enzymatic signal' to an electrical signal, which was then used to detect the biomarkers for viruses such as HPV or parvo, as described in a paper published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The researchers hope the end result could be a new 'universal biosensing' point-of-care medical device, similar to the existing commercial blood-glucose sensor, which rapidly and accurately detects viruses.

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