Cell therapy was the subject of a recent episode of Lab Invaders, an occasional series in which Cytiva scientists take you behind the scenes of some of our most exciting projects.Dr. Dolores Baksh and Dr. Shannon Eaker, cellular therapy specialists, explained to the Facebook Live audience what cell therapy is and how Cytiva is working to industrialize the field. Here are a few of their insights…

What are cells?

Cells are the building blocks of all living things. Under the microscope you can see that they are made up of lots of parts, from the outer cell membrane to the DNA. In cancer, mutations in the DNA lead to the cells growing uncontrollably and forming tumors.

Cells as treatment

Cell therapy seeks to modify cells to treat diseases. One type, immunotherapy, ‘supercharges’ T-cells to hunt and destroy cancer cells.

Dr. Eaker expresses their function in clear terms: “T-cells are members of the immune system that have superpowers! They can detect and specifically kill cancer cells while leaving our healthy cells alone.”

But cancer cells are experts at hiding from the immune system. To overcome this, immunotherapies re-program individuals’ T-cells and re-launch them into the patient to attack the cancer.

Dr. Baksh is excited about the potential for this type of treatment and believes: “Cell therapy could become one of the strongest weapons for fighting disease.”

Main steps in cell therapy personalized treatment

The scientists described each step of the autologous cell therapy process:

  • Isolation: Blood is collected from the patient and T-cells extracted
  • Modification: Extracted T-cells are genetically modified
  • Expansion: Modified cells are grown in large numbers
  • Harvesting: Cells are collected and analyzed
  • Administration: Cells are infused back into the patient

Results from cell therapy trials have been very encouraging, Dr. Shannon explained: “T-cell therapy has been shown to remove all signs of cancer from the body, most notably for blood diseases like leukemia.” But it’s important to note that this type of treatment isn’t appropriate for all patients, there are some risks and complete cancer eradication isn’t seen in every case.

The challenge

Researchers have traditionally manufactured autologous cell therapies manually in a time-consuming and often arduous process. As it’s an individualized therapy, there are challenges to scaling the treatment up to reach millions of people.

Dr. Dolores described it as “the nucleus of the challenge,” and this is precisely where Cytiva is stepping in with new technology to expand the industry.

Accelerating therapy

Cytiva now has an almost complete set of systems to automate each stage of cell therapy manufacture:

  • Isolation: Sped up by Sepax equipment
  • Expansion: The Xuri Cell Expansion system regulates perfect conditions for T-cell growth
  • Harvesting: The Sefia system safely prepares cells

Dr. Dolores: “Altogether, these systems represent an excellent standardized, scalable cell therapy solution, which can take just 6–10 days from beginning to end. It’s our approach to getting the industry ready to reach more patients.”