Japanese scientists succeeded to grow in vitro a huge number of lymphocytes which could potentially be used against cancer cells and HIV. In vitro means cultivated and grown in artificial laboratory environment (i.e. opposite of in vivo, which is growth in a living organism as in the nature).
This research is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
The cells naturally exist in small numbers, but it is hoped injecting huge amounts back into a patient could be the ultimate stimulation for the immune system.
Experts said the results had exciting potential, but any therapy must be proven as safe.
The researchers concentrated on a type of white blood cell known as a cytotoxic T-cell, which can recognise telltale markings of infection or cancer on the surfaces of cells. If a marking is recognised, it launches an attack.
Teams at the University of Tokyo and the Riken Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology used advances in stem cell technology to make more T-cells. One group used T-cells for treating a patient’s skin cancer. Another group did the same for HIV.
These T-cells were turned into stem cells, which could divide themselves and reach large numbers when grown in the laboratory. These were converted back into T-cells which should also have the ability to target the cancer or HIV.
The leader of the team that worked at Riken, Dr. Hiroshi Kawamoto, said: “The next step will be to test whether these T-cells can selectively kill tumour cells, but not other cells in the body. If they do, these cells might be directly injected into patients for therapy. This could be realized in the not-so-distant future.”