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Using the body's immune cells to kill tumor cells is a very promising method of treating cancer. A research group from Lund University in Sweden has found a way to make the technique more efficient.
Researchers have investigated how to reprogram human skin cells into dendritic cells that strengthen the immune system. Dendritic cells are the guard system of the immune system, and they "patrol" our bodies for bacteria, viruses, or cancer cells.
The dendritic cells can break down cancer cells. However, they also risk breaking down over time. Therefore, introducing more dendritic cells may be necessary for treatments to be effective.
Reprogramming skin cells into dendritic cells has worked very well in experiments with mice but has not been as successful in humans.
"It is not clear why human cells are more difficult to reprogram, but it seems to be a general problem that has been a major obstacle to transferring our results to clinical trials. To fully understand the reprogramming process, we used single-cell analysis - a method for mapping tissue composition and molecularly characterizing cell types and their signaling pathways", says Filipe Pereira, who led the study at Lund University, in a press release.
The analysis gave researchers a better understanding of what limited the reprogramming process in human cells.
"Because the dendritic cells are supposed to trigger the immune system, they need to have inflammatory properties. Increasing the inflammatory properties of the cells proved to be an important piece of the puzzle for higher efficiency. By understanding the process behind the reprogramming, we managed to increase the efficiency to over 75 percent - a very high figure in these contexts", says Filipe Pereira.
The researchers will now move forward and try to develop the method for clinical treatment.
"This is very positive and opens up the possibility of inducing cancer immunity using cell reprogramming. The next step is to carry out the improved reprogramming experiments in animal models", says Filipe Pereira.