Reprogramming Skin Cells to Fight Cancer

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Dendritic cells are an important ally in cancer immunotherapy as they can recruit other antibodies, like cytotoxic T cells, to attack the disease. The issue is they are quite rare and hard to produce in large numbers. This is why scientists are looking to repurpose other cells to do the same job.

Carlos-Filipe Pereira, from Lund University, Sweden, is leading this project. His team is now trying to turn skin cells called fibroblasts into dendritic cells. Their study was published in Science Immunology journal and details how “induced” dendritic cells acted similar to their original counterparts.

We screened different transcription factor genes and found a combination of three that are necessary and sufficient to reprogram fibroblasts into dendritic cells”.

The new cells could engulf antigens and even interact with T cells as dendritic cells can. It might be easier to create these modified analogues in the lab than regular dendritic cells. “The modified cells may not need an inflammatory signal in order to mature and present antigens as natural dendritic cells do”.

While most of the testing was conducted on mouse models, the team also managed to recreate the results with human samples. These findings could translate into developing a new gene therapy for cancer. “You can introduce these genes directly into tumors and promote an adaptive immune response in those tumors”.

Pharmaceutical companies are already designing therapies bases on similar principles of modifying dendritic cells from donors to recruit T cells or other dendritic cells in cancer.

The oncology field have widely embraced immunotherapy as the most promising avenue for creating safer and better targeted treatments against cancer. There are constant improvements in medical care and results support their superior effectiveness.