The idea of fighting cancers and even infections by inducing protective immune responses may now be a step closer to clinical practice.
Researchers have removed a major obstacle to widespread use of so-called adoptive transfer therapy, in which a patient receives "killer" immune cells targeting a disease agent. Existing technologies can easily provide T cells that will recognize a specific antigen, but it has been challenging to identify individual cells most likely to succeed in fighting the disease - until now.
Scientists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have developed the first assay for living T cells that can quantify how strongly the cells' receptors bind to their targeted antigen. Optimal binding strength or "structural avidity" is thought to be the most important predictor of success in adoptive transfer therapies. Together with collaborators in Seattle, Mainz, and Berlin, the TUM researchers have successfully tested their assay in preclinical animal models very close to clinical settings and with human T cells. They published their results in the journal Science Translational Medicine
A new key to predictability
There are countless kinds of T cells, each one expressing a single type of receptor -- a surface structure capable of locking onto a particular ligand molecule that may, for example, be associated with a virus or a tumor. If a patient's immune system cannot mount an effective defense, it may be possible to fight the disease by introducing the right kind of T cell, either prepared from the patient's own cells or obtained from a donor.