UCI announces immunotherapy technique to specifically target tumor cells

The new “lab on a chip” technology could be used to create individualized treatments for cancer

Woman gets cancer diagnosis treatment plan from doctor

The University of California’s Irvine researchers have developed a new immunotherapy screening prototype which can quickly create individualized cancer treatments. This will allow physicians to effectively target tumors while limiting the side effects of standard cancer drugs.

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Development of T-Cell Therapy

UCI’s Weian Zhao and Nobel laureate David Baltimore, Caltech, led the research team to develop a tracking and screening system that identifies T cell receptors with 100 per cent specificity for individual tumors within a few days.

In the human immune system, T cells have molecules on their surfaces which bind to antigens on the surface of foreign or cancel cells. Treating a tumor with T cell therapy requires researchers to identify exactly which receptor molecules work against a specific tumor’s antigens. The new technology from UCI aims to speed up this identification process.

The tracking and screening system can identify T-cell receptions with 100 per cent specificity for individual tumours in just a few days

T cell therapy utilizes the patient’s own immune system to attack tumors. The therapy places engineered molecules on the patient’s T cells which bind to their cancer cell antigens, allowing the T cell to destroy the cancer cell. T cell receptor (TCR) therapy can be individualized so that each patient can have T cells specifically designed for their tumor cells.

Read More: How Stanford is using T-cells to eliminate cancerous growths in mice

There can be hundreds of millions of different types of TCR molecules so the antigen-TCR recognition system is very specific. An ongoing challenge for TCR-T cell therapy is identifying particular TCR molecules out of the millions of possibilities. The process of finding a match can take up to a year and cost half a million dollars per treatment.

The process of finding a TCR molecule match can take up to a year and cost half a million dollars per treatment

Zhao’s team designed a device that utilized miniscule oil-water droplets to allow individual T cells to join with cancer cells in microscopic fluid containers. The TCRs that bind with the cancer cells’ antigens can be sorted and identified within days, significantly faster than the previous process at a much lower cost.

The platform includes a tracking system for each clone as well as a sorting procedure with 100 per cent specificity validated by downstream single cell reverse-transcription PCR and sequencing of TCR chains.

Zhao, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, said “this technology is particularly exciting because it dismantles major challenges in cancer treatments”. He continues that “this use of droplet microfluidics screening significantly reduces the cost of making new cancer immunotherapies that are associated with less systemic side effects than standard chemotherapy drugs, and vastly speeds up the time frame for treatments”.

"This technology...dismantles major challenges in cancer treatments"


The future use and applications of T-Cell Therapy

A partnership with Amberstone Biosciences will mean the entire platform and screening process will be available to pharmaceutical companies for drug development in a few months.

The research team believe that not only will this technology be able to revolutionize TCR-T cell therapies for cancer, it could also be a key tool for the discovery of other immunological agents and for enlightening researchers to new immunology and cancer biology at a depth not possible before.

The technology may have further applications in the discovery of other immunological agents


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