Refining the purification process of therapeutic cells could boost their use for treating cancer and other diseases.

Various cell therapies involve injecting a certain cell type into a patient. These include, for example , bone marrow transplants and some types of immunotherapy that use T-cells (a white-colored blood cell involved in immunity) to help fight cancer.

Before cells are transplanted, they need to be filtered to reduce the inclusion of unwanted cell types using the therapeutic cells that clinicians and researchers want to make use of. This process can be inefficient and limited— where all other cellular types are not removed— or can damage the cells needed for the transplant, rendering them useless.

Many present purification techniques use antibodies that bind to cellular surface receptors. Because receptors can be common in many cellular types, they don’ t necessarily select and separate only the chosen cells, but leave other unwanted cellular types in the final treatment.

Hirohide Saito and colleagues at the Center for iPS [induced pluripotent stem] Cell Research and Application at Kyoto College are investigating methods that target signatures within cellular material rather than on the surface. Their tools look for very specific microRNAs (miRNAs)— small molecules that are found in plants and animals— which they believe will prove more selective and harm fewer cells.

miRNAs are active within gene expression and silencing; in other words, they can switch genetics on and off.

The team has designed an artificial tool they call the miRNA switch, which can discover these small molecules within the cell. This tool has effectively purified several cell types, so the researchers are able to generate samples of solely heart muscle cells, liver cells, tissue that line blood vessels or cells that produce insulin. The percentage of purified cells is far more than that using standard antibody purification because the markers the particular tool looks for are more specific than the commonly used antibodies plus cell surface receptors. The cells are also less likely to be broken compared with antibody-based techniques, because they do not need to be handled just as much.

This work has been published in the periodicals Cell Stem Cell plus Scientific Reports in years past. The particular researchers hope to refine the technique so that it is attractive just for clinical research and are now working with several groups which are planning cellbased therapies in patients.

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