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Now, cancer-killing cells that can be injected into patients

The cells naturally occur in small numbers, but it is hoped injecting huge quantities back into a patient could boost the immune system

Press Trust of India  |  London 

In a breakthrough, scientists have for the first time created cancer-killing cells which can be directly injected into patients.

Researchers in Japan have created cancer-specific killer T cells, the cells naturally occur in small numbers, but it is hoped injecting huge quantities back into a patient could turbo-charge the immune system, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

Researchers at the RIKEN Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology revealed they have succeeded for the first time in creating cancer-specific, immune system cells called killer T lymphocytes, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

To create these, the team first had to reprogramme T specialised in killing a certain type of cancer, into another type of cell called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).

These iPS cells then generated fully active, cancer-specific T These regenerated from iPS cells could potentially serve as therapy in the future, researchers believe.

Previous research has shown that killer T produced in the lab using conventional methods are inefficient in killing cells mainly because they have a very short life-span, which limits their use as treatment for

To overcome the problems, Japanese researchers, led by Hiroshi Kawamoto reprogrammed mature human killer T into iPS cells and investigated how these cells differentiate.

The team induced killer T specific for a certain type of skin to reprogramme into iPS cells by exposing the to the 'Yamanaka factors' - a group of compounds that induce cells to revert to a non-specialised, stage.

The iPS cells obtained were then grown in the lab and induced to differentiate into killer T again. This new batch of T was shown to be specific for the same type of skin as the original

They maintained the genetic reorganisation, enabling them to express the cancer-specific receptor on their surface. The new T were also shown to be active and to produce an anti-tumour compound.

"We have succeeded in the expansion of antigen-specific T cells by making iPS cells and differentiating them back into functional T cells," Kawamoto said.

"The next step will be to test whether these T cells can selectively kill tumour cells but not other cells in the body. If they do, these cells might be directly injected into patients for therapy. This could be realised in the not-so-distant future," Kawamoto said.

The findings were published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

First Published: Fri, January 04 2013. 14:02 IST