A major barrier to regenerative medicine cell therapy is the immune system. It is always performing surveillance and will often mistake a beneficial cell therapy as a threat and destroy the cells.
Scientists led by Andras Nagy, a senior investigator at Sinai Health System’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, have been developing a method called cloaking to enable treatments for type 1 diabetes.
“We wondered if there was a way to hide or “cloak” these good cells, so the immune response wouldn’t destroy them,” says Nagy, who is also a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Institute of Medical Science at U of T.
Nagy’s team is testing the cloaking technology with insulin-secreting pancreatic cells developed by collaborators including the Cristina Nostro and Sara Nunes Vasconcelos labs.
In earlier research, Nagy and his team established the safety of the cells. His focus is now on developing the cloaking technology which turns off certain genetic switches in the cells (created from stem cells) to avoid detection by the immune system.
The only way to currently reduce the immune response is to use drugs that are not selective and suppress the entire immune system, meaning that patients are susceptible to virus and bacterial infections and have increased cancer susceptibility.
“We can now introduce good cells into recipient’s body that can be hidden from the immune response and do the work they were intended to do. And that means doctors won’t have to use immunosuppression drugs,” Nagy says.
In 2015, Nagy founded panCELLa Inc., a biotech company, to make his cell technologies widely available.
“Regenerative medicine is at a point now where we can translate our research into therapies that can help all humankind,” he says.