Feature in our Nature journal supplement on cell and gene therapy

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Cell and gene therapy Spotlight:

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14 December 20239 October 202312 October 2023

With the rapid improvement of ‘chimeric antigen receptor’ (CAR) T-cell treatments for cancer, cellular therapies are having a moment.

CAR-T cells are a form of immunotherapy, in which a patient’s own immune cells are genetically programmed to attack cancerous cells. Other therapeutic strategies could replace damaged or missing cells, such as the islet cells that produce insulin.

Whatever their target, cell therapies are promising, but expensive and technically challenging. And each batch of cells must be customized to the patient: because the immune system attacks foreign cells, one individual’s cells cannot be used to treat another’s disease.

So, some researchers are pursuing a ‘universal’ stem cell approach. Stem cells – progenitor cells that can be chemically coaxed into any desired cell type – are genetically modified to help them fly under the immune system’s radar, for instance by removing or modifying certain proteins using gene editing. Such cells could theoretically be applied to all (or at least many) patients, reducing cost and speeding treatment.

But stem cells present challenges of their own: a cell that can evade the immune system is one that could theoretically run amok in the body.



About Nature Spotlights:

Nature Spotlight

Nature Spotlights are special features published in the Nature journal. They are focused explorations of key science topics or locations.

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