Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Will Cell Therapy Become a 'Third Pillar' of Medicine?

Published: Thursday, April 04, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, April 04, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Treating patients with cells may one day become as common as it is now to treat the sick with drugs made from engineered proteins, antibodies or smaller chemicals.

“Today, biomedical science sits on the cusp of a revolution: the use of human and microbial cells as therapeutic entities,” said Wendell Lim, PhD, a UCSF professor and director of the UCSF Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, and one of the co-authors of an article published online April 3 in Science Translational Medicine.

Cell therapies have the potential to address critical, unmet needs in the treatment of some of the deadliest diseases, including diabetes, cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases, the scientists said.

The reason, they said, is that cells can carry out functions that can’t be performed by small-molecule drugs produced by Big Pharma, or by targeted drugs developed by biotech firms in the wake of the genetic engineering revolution. For one, cells are adaptable. They can sense their surroundings better than today’s drugs and can vary their responses to better suit physiologic conditions.

Continued advances in cellular engineering could provide a framework, according to the co-authors, for the development of cellular therapies that are safe and that act predictably.

Joining Lim as co-authors of the Science Translational Medicine article are Michael Fischbach, PhD, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy and an expert on the human microbiome, and Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, executive vice chancellor and provost at UCSF and a leading diabetes and transplant rejection researcher.

The three also have organized a daylong symposium on the potential of cell therapy on April 12 supported by UCSF and the journal Science Translational Medicine, featuring talks and discussion by some of the nation’s leading scientists in stem cell therapy, immunotherapy and the human microbiome – the latter consisting primarily of the many hundreds of interacting species of bacteria that live within and upon us.

Advances in Cell Therapies

It has been more than four decades since cells were first used successfully in bone marrow and organ transplants, but the strategies envisioned today are more complex, involving manipulating cells based on new knowledge of how genes program their development and inner workings.

Cells of the immune system are among those that naturally carry out critical functions, but researchers are working on manipulating them to create better-targeted and more effective therapies. For instance, immune responses directed against cancer often are weak, so scientists are engineering and growing populations of immune cells that target specific molecules found on cancer cells. Already, remarkable recoveries from deadly leukemia have been credited to these new experimental treatments.

Bacterial cells also are showing promise for therapy. In recent years, scientists have come to appreciate that 90 percent of the cells living within and on our bodies are bacteria and that these microbes interact with our own cells and affect our health.

The potential of bacteria to treat disease has been demonstrated dramatically by the recent use of fecal transplants to introduce communities of health-promoting bacteria into patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile infections, a serious gastrointestinal condition that can be life-threatening. Combinations of bacteria that also are engineered to fight inflammation might prove to be even more effective in treating Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases, according to the UCSF scientists.

Other “killer apps” for cell therapies might include combinations of bacterial and human engineered cells. For instance, to control weight gain, gut bacteria might be deployed to convert certain carbohydrates into non-digestible forms, and also to signal engineered human cells lining the epithelial walls to trigger a program that sends a message to the brain that appetite has been satisfied.

Still, many engineering and regulatory challenges to cell therapy remain, the authors concede.

Scientists want to be able to reliably control many aspects of cells, including their activation, population growth, programmed death, migration to specific sites in the body, interactions and communications with other cells, production of small therapeutic molecules, and decision making.

While the complexity of cells makes many scientists leery of cell therapies, the authors said, this complexity might make cell therapies more predictable than other drugs, because complicated, naturally occurring feedback circuits tend to restrict cellular activity. Just as cells already use molecular circuits to act very precisely, researchers ought to be able develop a systematic understanding of the cell’s control modules to tune and reshape how cells behave.

“If small molecules and biologics are tools, then cells are carpenters — and architects and engineers as well,” Fischbach said.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

RNA-Based Drugs Give More Control Over Gene Editing
CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique can be transiently activated and inactivated using RNA-based drugs, giving researchers more precise control in correcting and inactivating genes.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Some 3-D Printed Objects Are Toxic
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have found parts produced by some commercial 3-D printers are toxic to certain fish embryos.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Artificial Kidney Research Gets A Boost
Development of a surgically implantable, artificial kidney — a promising alternative to kidney transplantation or dialysis for people with end-stage kidney disease — has received a $6 million boost.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Clearest Ever Images of Enzyme that Plays Key Roles in Aging, Cancer
UCLA-led research on telomerase could lead to new strategies for treating disease
Monday, October 19, 2015
Crop Cure
Scientists in new center to use medical research techniques to help food crops withstand drought and climate change.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Rare Childhood Leukemia Reveals Surprising Genetic Secrets
A coalition of leukemia researchers led by scientists from UC San Francisco has discovered surprising genetic diversity in juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML), a rare but aggressive childhood blood cancer.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Sustaining Our Salad
Improving lettuce crops is the aim of a new, $4.5 million grant, awarded to University of California, Davis, researchers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Double Enzyme Hit May Explain Common Cancer Drug Side Effect
Mouse study suggests genomic screening before treatment may help prevent anemia.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
New Autism Genes Are Revealed in Largest-Ever Study
Work draws more detailed picture of genetic risk, sheds light on sex differences in diagnosis.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Influenza A Viruses More Likely To Emerge In East Asia Than North America
Novel strains of influenza A are more likely to emerge in East Asia than in North America, according to a global analysis by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and EcoHealth Alliance.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Opening the Door to Safer, More Precise Cancer Therapies
New method regulates when, and how strongly, cancer-killing therapeutic T cells are activated.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Crunching Numbers to Combat Cancer
UCSF receives $5 million to integrate data from cancer research models.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Virus In Cattle Linked To Human Breast Cancer
A new study by UC Berkeley researchers establishes for the first time a link between infection with the bovine leukemia virus and human breast cancer.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Ultrafast DNA Diagnostics
New technology developed by UC Berkeley bioengineers promises to make a workhorse lab tool cheaper, more portable and many times faster by accelerating the heating and cooling of genetic samples with the switch of a light.
Monday, August 03, 2015
Scientists Create CRISPR/Cas9 Knock-In Mutations in Human T Cells
In a project spearheaded by investigators at UC San Francisco, scientists have devised a new strategy to precisely modify human T cells using the genome-editing system known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
How a Genetic Locus Protects Adult Blood-Forming Stem Cells
Mammalian imprinted Gtl2 protects adult hematopoietic stem cells by restricting metabolic activity in the cells' mitochondria.
Genetic Basis of Fatal Flu Side Effect Discovered
A group of people with fatal H1N1 flu died after their viral infections triggered a deadly hyperinflammatory disorder in susceptible individuals with gene mutations linked to the overactive immune response, according to a recent study.
New Tech Vastly Improves CRISPR/Cas9 Accuracy
A new CRISPR/Cas9 technology developed by scientists at UMass Medical School is precise enough to surgically edit DNA at nearly any genomic location, while avoiding potentially harmful off-target changes typically seen in standard CRISPR gene editing techniques.
The MaxSignal Colistin ELISA Test Kit from Bioo Scientific
Kit can help prevent the antibiotic apocalypse by keeping last resort drugs out of the food supply.
"Good" Mozzie Virus Might Hold Key to Fighting Human Disease
Australian scientists have discovered a new virus carried by one of the country’s most common pest mosquitoes.
Non-Disease Proteins Kill Brain Cells
Scientists at the forefront of cutting-edge research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have shown that the mere presence of protein aggregates may be as important as their form and identity in inducing cell death in brain tissue.
Closing the Loop on an HIV Escape Mechanism
Research team finds that protein motions regulate virus infectivity.
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Potential Treatment for Life-Threatening Viral Infections Revealed
The findings point to new therapies for Dengue, West Nile and Ebola.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos