From its first trial in 1982, the life sciences community has had high hopes for the potential of cell therapy. Repairing damaged tissues, treating once-intractable diseases; cell therapy poses profound possibilities for situations once thought to be beyond the reach of contemporary science.
By 2001, scientists had employed cell therapy technology to not only create the first beating heart cells outside the human body,1 but also to bestow upon the world a zoological marvel: Dolly, the world’s most famous sheep.2 The burgeoning field’s capacity to shift the landscape of health technologies seems boundless.
However, cell therapy isn’t without its practical challenges. By educating ourselves on how cell therapy works, and identifying potential solutions to its obstacles, we can all work towards empowering cell therapy technology to meet its potential.
What is Cell Therapy?
Cell therapy is the process of cultivating viable cells and introducing them (through injection, grafting, or implanting) into a cellular environment for therapeutic treatment. By replacing lost or damaged material, viable cells may present therapeutic relief in the treatment of a disease, neurological disorder, or major accident.
How does it work?
In the 19th century, physiologist Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard3 sought to reverse the symptoms of aging with injections of animal cells.iii Modern cell therapy has developed from a similar principle – treatment from the introduction of intentionally cultivated cells – but with a more precise scope.
If you’ve ever donated blood, you may have taken part in allotransplantation. In this method, genetic material – cells, muscles, organs – is taken from one organism and transplanted into a non-genetically identical member of the same species. For humans, this is often seen in blood transfusions and organ implants.
The transplanted material, known as an allograft or allogeneic transplant, may trigger immunosuppressive responses from the body. For this reason, commercially available products such as allogeneic CAR T cell therapies, require conscientious gene editing technique to minimize the risks of immunosuppressive rejection.
Allogeneic CAR T cell therapies utilize a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) engineered to be expressed on immune cells such as T and NK cells. This allows for the targeting of specific cancerous cells.
Allogeneic CAR T cells, as a singular product that can be used for multiple patients, offer a wider range of application than autologous CAR T cells. By editing multiple genes, allogeneic CAR T cell products can be configured for multiple cancer targets.
These products offer a treatment that combines the accessibility of a mass-produced, off-the-shelf product with the focused implantation needed to treat individuals.
This method is a little more personal. In autotransplantation, cells from one part of an individual organism are transplanted to a different part of that same organism. A very common example of this process happens in hospitals everyday when healthcare workers collect blood from someone expecting a surgery or other major medical intervention.
The blood, if correctly stored, is easily re-introduced back to the individual, aiding in their recuperation with an influx of blood that poses minimal risk of rejection.
The ease with which autologous CAR T cell therapies bypass potentially fatal immunosuppressive responses present a clear advantage for this method in cases when applicable. However, the conditions that afford autologous that advantage also pose technical limitations to its scalability.
What Would Cells in Therapy Share if they Could?
Cell therapies are beset by several practical considerations that pose limits on more global applications of the technology.
The intended outcomes of cell therapy – whether it’s treating cancer or rehabilitating an athletic injury – aren’t accomplished with one or two or even ten good cells. It takes many, many cells, transplanted over the course of potentially many treatments, for long-term therapeutic benefit.
This can be especially problematic in situations where autologous cells are required: an organism only produces so many cells over the course of their lifetime. Viable cells intended for treatment must be produced at a rate exponentially significant enough to fulfill the intended treatment.
Cultivating viable cells for transplant is time-consuming. In addition to the considerable labor of manual processes, there is also the time-intensive task of keeping the product compliant with ever-changing clinical safety standards.
With these scalability setbacks, the challenge of translating R&D into a commercially feasible product persists.
Innovation Isn’t a Hard Cell
We believe that scalability Is crucial to widespread application of cell therapy technologies. To better realize solutions to this global challenge, Thermo Fisher Scientific is applying next-gen instruments that ensure sterile conditions and optimize the pace of work to elevate cell therapy processes.
Instrumental to your Cell Therapy Success:
- CTS Xenon Electroporation
- CTS Rotea Counterflow Centrifugation System
- CTS TrueCut Cas9 v2 Protein
- Attune Cytpix Flow Cytometer
As every scientific concept must thread the needle of practical application, the advancement of cell therapy technologies must overcome its “real-world” challenges to effectively realize their mainstream capabilities. When the scalability of cell therapy technologies is increased, so is the overall potential for all those who may utilize it to reach their therapeutic aims.
To connect with Thermo Fisher Scientific’s innovations in cell therapy, check out our Cell Therapy Solutions homepage.
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1 Kocher AA et. al. “Stem cells and cardiac regeneration.” Transpl Int. 2007 Sep;20(9):731-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1432-2277.2007.00493.x.
3 Lefrere JJ and Berche P. “La thérapeutique du docteur Brown-Séquard” Annales d’endocrinologie. Doi : 10.1016/j.ando.2010.01.003