20 October 2016

Researchers to test value of “warrior” GM T-cells

Western Australians with B-cell leukaemia may soon be able to tackle their cancer using genetically modified white blood cells.

Scientists at WA Health’s Royal Perth Hospital-based Cell and Tissue Therapies WA (CTTWA) are working on a therapy that would give the cells – taken from the patient’s own blood – the ability to recognise and destroy the cancer cells.

The white cells, considered warriors of the immune system, are commonly referred to as T-cells.

CTTWA molecular biologist Leon Brownrigg, who is heading the project in Western Australia, plans to modify the T-cells by introducing a synthetic gene designed on a computer.

“The T-cells will be reprogrammed to target cancer cells by detecting the protein CD19 which acts effectively as a billboard for some blood cancer cells,” Mr Brownrigg explained.

The T-cells would be genetically modified using a non-viral process known as nucleofection and the resultant “CAR-T cells” would be grown in the Royal Perth Hospital culture facility before being infused back into the patient.

Here it is hoped they would multiply and set to work attacking the cancer cells.

Mr Brownrigg said the project was being conducted in collaboration with scientists from Westmead Hospital in NSW and building on existing technology in an emerging field of cancer therapy.

“We’re starting with a condition, B-cell leukaemia, for which this type of therapy is showing enormous promise,” he said.

Mr Brownrigg hopes the new therapy may be available for clinical trials next year. It would be offered to patients who no longer responded to conventional treatments.

Mr Brownrigg’s project is among a host of innovative cell and tissue therapy initiatives with which the CTTWA is involved and which will be showcased at Royal Perth Hospital on tomorrow (Friday 21 October) as part of a CTTWA seminar, Cell and Tissue Therapy Innovations.

The seminar will also highlight how cell therapies are being used in Western Australia for patients undergoing skull reconstructions, renal transplants or who have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or Crohn’s Disease that has not responded to conventional treatments.


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