Researchers developed synthetic T cells that are similar to human T cells in form and function, according to a study published on June 27, 2018.
This study was conducted by the researchers at the University of California – Los Angeles and was funded by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research. According to the researchers, creation of artificial cells would aid in the development of effective drugs against cancer and autoimmune diseases, resulting in better understanding of behavior of human immune cells.
The replication of T cells in the lab was difficult for the scientists, as it has a complex structure and multifunctional nature. The use of natural T cells for research purposes are difficult due to its delicate nature. Also, they would survive only for few days when they are extracted from humans and other animals.
Researchers used a microfluidic system for the fabrication of T cells. Two different solutions such as mineral oil and an alginate biopolymer, a gum-like substance made from polysaccharides and water were combined. This combination led to the creation of microparticles of alginate, which replicate the form and structure of natural T cells. The microparticles were then collected from a calcium ion bath, and the elasticity of it was adjusted by changing the concentration of calcium ions in the bath.
Once the T cells with the proper physical properties were created, the biological attributes of the cells had to be adjusted so that it has traits similar to the natural T cells. To achieve this, the T cells were coated with phospholipids to mimic the exterior of human cellular membranes. Furthermore, a chemical process known as bioconjugation was used by the scientists to link the T cells with CD4 signalers, which are particles that activate natural T cells to attack infection or cancer cells.
Researchers say that the same process can be used by other scientists for the creation of different types of artificial cells such as natural killer cells or microphages, for research on specific diseases or to help develop treatments.