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Researchers develop synthetic T cells, that function like the human version.

The unique properties of naturally occurring immune cells in the human body have inspired many efforts to synthetically engineer a unit capable of mimicking their behaviors.  Now, a study from researchers at UCLA develops synthetic T lymphocytes, or T cells, that are a near-perfect reproduction of human T cells.  The team states the ability to mass-produce the artificial cells could be a key step toward more effective drugs to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases and could lead to a better understanding of human immune cells’ behavior. Such cells also could eventually be used to boost the immune system of people with cancer or immune deficiencies.  The findings are published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Previous studies have shown that T cells are activated when infection enters the body, where they flow through the bloodstream to reach the infected areas.  T cells have the ability to deform to as small as one-quarter of their normal size and can grow to almost three times their original size, which helps them fight off or overcome the antigens that attack the immune system.  However, the complex structure of T cells and their multifunctional nature have made it difficult for scientists to replicate them in the lab.  The current study develops super‐soft functional microparticles that mimic the mechanobiological features of T cells.

The current study fabricates T cells using a microfluidic system to form microparticles that replicate natural T cells.  To provide the synthetic T cells with the same traits that enable natural T cells to be activated to fight infection, penetrate human tissue and release cellular messengers to regulate inflammation, the T cells were coated with phospholipids so their exterior would closely mimic human cellular membranes.

Results show the synthetic cells successfully linked to the T cells with CD4 signalers, the particles that activate natural T cells to attack infection or cancer cells.  Data findings show these particles can penetrate 3D microenvironments, have prolonged blood circulation, and can release various cytokines on demand.

The team surmises they have successfully developed a novel class of artificial T cells capable of boosting the host’s immune system by actively interacting with immune cells through direct contact, activation or releasing inflammatory or regulatory signals.  For the future, the researchers state the global medical community could use the same process to create various types of artificial cells, such as natural killer cells or macrophages, for research on specific diseases or to help develop treatments; the approach could help scientists develop a database of a wide range of synthetic cells that mimic human cells.

Source: University of California – Los Angeles

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