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Of artificial cells and cancer

Tarek Fahmy of Yale University has developed artificial cells to boost one's immune system to combat a host of diseases.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 27, 2008 20:04 IST

It may now be possible to artificially boost one's immune system, allowing the body to combat a host of diseases, including cancer, a new study says.

This can be done with the help of synthetic cells that prompt a 45-fold T-cell activation and expansion - something that will help fight cancer as well as several infectious diseases. T-cells are white blood cells that play a key role in cell-mediated immunity.

These artificial cells, developed by Tarek Fahmy of Yale University and his research student Erin Steenblock, are synthesised out of a material used for biodegradable sutures.

The duo has reported their findings in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Theory.

The authors claim the new method is the first "off-the-shelf" antigen-presenting artificial cell that can be tuned to target a specific disease or infection.

"This procedure is likely to make it to the clinic rapidly," said Fahmy. "All of the materials we use are natural, biodegradable (and) already have FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) approval."

Cancer, viral infections and autoimmune diseases have responded to the therapy that boosts a patient's own antigen-specific T-cells.

In previous procedures, the immune cells were harvested and then exposed to cells that stimulate activation and production of antigen-specific T-cells. The "boosted" immune cells were then transfused into the patient to attack the disease.

Their limitations include costly and tedious isolation of cells for individual patients and the risk of adverse reaction to foreign cells, according to Yale researchers.

They also pointed to difficulty in obtaining and maintaining sufficient numbers of activated T-cells for effective therapeutic response.