Serendipity reveals new method to fight cancer with T cells

Krishanu Saha, right, works in a lab at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Submitted photo

Krishanu Saha, right, works in a lab at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Submitted photo

A promising therapy that treats blood cancers by harnessing the power of the immune system to target and destroy cancer cells could now treat solid tumors more efficiently.

Thanks to a recent study from Dan Cappabianca and Krishanu Saha at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery published in Molecular Therapy – Methods & Clinical Development, Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy can be improved by altering the conditions the T cells are grown in. And it was all discovered by chance.

T cells are white blood cells crucial for the immune system’s response to infections and cancer. They can be modified with CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology to express a specific receptor that redirects their natural “killing instincts” toward targeting cancer cells, specifically those in tumors. T cells can “remember” a pathogen after first exposure, allowing a quicker and stronger response if encountered again, like how vaccines train the immune system to recognize and fight off specific pathogens.

But for the cells to be used as a robust cancer treatment, they must be made in specific conditions in the lab.

“We were comparing two distinct T-cell media formulations with varying nutrient levels,” explains Cappabianca. “Interestingly, our breakthrough came entirely by chance. I inadvertently placed the cells in the wrong medium, which unexpectedly became the focal point of my entire thesis!”

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