Cancer-Fighting Stem Cells

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If you want to be immortal (in real life or in television and film), you need more than anti-aging cells – you need cells that fight common diseases. It is a fact echoed in In Time, a film where the characters never age past 25 years old. One of the characters mentions that only an accident could take his life – cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses do not exist in In Time’s (very youthful) world. But how could people be engineered not to age and resist cancer? Maybe the characters in the film are benefitting from some recent news at UCLA, where researchers engineered stem cells that find and attack melanoma.

Previously, stem cells (T-cells) were engineered to fight cancer but the effect wore off after a while. New engineered T-cells needed to be introduced to keep the fight going. But according to Dimitrios Vatakis, the first author of the study, that is not the case with UCLA’s engineered T-cells:

“The nice thing about this approach is a few engineered stem cells can turn into an army of T-cells that will respond to the presence of this melanoma antigen. These cells can exist in the periphery of the blood, and if they detect the melanoma antigen, they can replicate to fight the cancer.”

The researchers experimented with the engineered T-cells by placing them in melanoma tumors within nine mice. The results: in four of the mice, the tumor was eliminated, and in the remaining five mice, the tumors were decreased in size.

This “engineered immunity” has far-reaching potential to be applied to other types of cancers, which, hopefully, is the start of a cancer-free future.

Jenn Creighton is a science junkie with a writing backbone. She tweets about cool science at @gurlcode.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.