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Johns Hopkins researchers advance creation of 'artificial lymph node' to fight cancer, other diseases

In a proof-of-principle study in mice, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine report the creation of a specialized gel that acts like a lymph node to successfully activate and multiply cancer-fighting immune system T-cells, the university announced.
The work puts scientists a step closer, they say, to injecting such artificial lymph nodes into people and sparking T-cells to fight disease, according to the article.

In the past few years, a wave of discoveries has advanced new techniques to use T-cells — a type of white blood cell — in cancer treatment, the article states. To be successful, the cells must be primed, or taught, to spot and react to molecular flags that dot the surfaces of cancer cells.

The job of educating T-cells this way typically happens in lymph nodes. But in patients with cancer and immune system disorders, that learning process is faulty, or doesn't happen.
 
To address such defects, current T-cell booster therapy requires physicians to remove T-cells from the blood of a patient with cancer and inject the cells back into the patient after either genetically engineering or activating the cells in a laboratory so they recognize cancer-linked molecular flags, according to the article.
 
One such treatment, called CAR-T therapy, is costly and available only at specialized centers with laboratories capable of the complicated task of engineering T-cells. In addition, it generally takes about six to eight weeks to culture the T-cells in laboratories and, once reintroduced into the body, the cells don't last long in the patient's body, so the effects of the treatment can be short-lived.
 
The new work, reported April 10 in the journal Advanced Materials, is a bid by Johns Hopkins scientists to find a more efficient way of engineering T-cells.
 
“We believe that a T-cell's environment is very important. Biology doesn't occur on plastic dishes; it happens in tissues,” says John Hickey, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and first author of the study report.

Hickey is a BMES member

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