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Targeting tumor-specific T cells

Cell-enzyme conjugate can quickly and specifically label T cells that could be used for cancer therapies

by Laura Howes
October 24, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 41


Scheme showing the bait cell bound to the T cell, allowing an enzyme to get close to the sugars on the T cell’s surface.
Credit: Peng Wu/C&EN
The bait cell–enzyme conjugate quickly and specifically adds a biotin label (B) to the sugars (colored shapes) on the surface of tumor-specific T cells.

One potential cancer immunotherapy involves injecting patients with tumor-specific T cells that can find and kill cancerous cells. In practice, that can mean injecting patients with modified T cells or isolating a patient’s own tumor-fighting T cells, growing more in the lab, and then injecting them. But that second option takes time. To improve the turnaround, Peng Wu’s group at Scripps Research in California has designed a chemoenzymatic system to quickly and specifically isolate tumor-specific T cells from samples (Cell 2020, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.09.048). The researchers created a bait cell functionalized with an enzyme that makes a specific linkage between sugar molecules. The bait cell binds only to tumor-targeting T cells, bringing the enzyme close to sugars on the T cells’ surface. The enzyme can then add a label to the sugars, allowing scientists to quickly isolate the cells. The technique works with mouse T cells and tumors, and Wu is now testing it on human cells. If it works, he says, the method could pave the way for much cheaper and faster personalized cancer treatment.


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