This is the start of an exciting new year for those involved in stem cell research. A group of researchers at The University of Tokyo and the Riken Research Center for Allergy and Immunology have received international attention for finding what could be a cure for both HIV and cancer. The doctors were able to extract live T-cells which apparently have the ability to identify and attack infections.
They tested the cells on both skin cancer and HIV. During the tests, they converted the T-cells to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) by exposing them to a set of compounds called “Yamanaka factors.” This allowed them to create infection fighting T-cells called “killer T-cells.”
The scientists say that they haven’t found a cure for sure, since their cells are lab grown. They are not yet sure if the lab-grown cells are going to react in a way that is similar to the disease-fighting cells produced by the immune system. There are other technical hurdles, but this finding is huge for the scientific community.
We’re not there yet, however, the researchers caution. While the iPS cells did reconvert back into their original specializations, it’s unsure whether lab-grown cells will behave similarly to the immune system’s own disease-fighters when injected into the human body. Furthermore, the risk of rejection is high when cells from one patient are grown and converted for use in another.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to predict whether cells that fight cancer in the lab will restrict their deadly effects to cancer cells in the body. Lead researcher Hiroshi Kawamoto, in a press release from the Riken Center, states, “the next step will be to test whether these T cells can selectively kill tumor cells but not other cells in the body.” It’s possible that lab-grown cells could attack normal, healthy human cells after therapeutic injection.