A devastating disease, childhood leukemia, the most prevalent type of cancer in children and teens, is a cancer of the body’s immune cells or white blood cells. Abnormal white blood cells form in the bone marrow which quickly spreads throughout the bloodstream, raising the risk of infection and other problems.
Currently, there are no widely recommended screening tools for childhood leukemia before it starts to cause symptoms, with varied survival rates depending on disease subtype.
Human immune cells in-a-dish
Now, a study from researchers led by the University of Melbourne produces human immune cells in-a-dish in a world’s first. The team states this new knowledge can be used to test ideas about how diseases such as childhood leukemia and type 1 diabetes develop. The study is published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.
Previous studies show the maturation of the immune system starts early in fetal life. Lymphocytes are early white blood cells produced by cells responsible for forming the embryo’s first organs rather than the blood-producing stem cells contained within the body’s bone marrow.
Defining the development of the human adaptive immune system during embryogenesis has implications for understanding childhood diseases including leukemias and autoimmune conditions. However, ethics concerning embryological research and technological advances do not allow for this presently. The current study combines genetic engineering and a novel way of growing stem cells to produce human immune cells in-a-dish.
Forming the earliest immune cells
The current study engineers pluripotent stem cells to glow green when a specific protein marker of early immune cells, RAG1, is switched on. Results show when the glowing green RAG1-positive cells are isolated they have to ability to form multiple immune cell types, including cells required for shaping the development of the whole immune system.
Data findings show the body’s earliest immune cells glow green when they arise from stem cells, after which they migrate along blood vessels where they populate the thymus and upregulate a cohort of recognized T-cell-associated genes.
The group states these early cells might be important for the correct maturation of the thymus, with the organ acting as a nursery for T-cells. They go on to add their work has added definitive evidence about how the body’s earliest immune cells are formed.
The team surmises they have produced human immune cells in-a-dish in a world’s first. For the future, the researchers state this data could lead to a patient’s own skin cells being used to produce new cells for cancer immunotherapy or to test autoimmune disease interventions.
Source: University of Melbourne
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