A new method of ‘barcoding’ T cells could better ensure the therapeutic effect of adoptive T cell transfer. 

Developed by a team of researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the method helps identify specific types of immune cells likely to have the most anti-cancer activity when harvested from a patient’s bloodstream.

Adoptive T cell transfer involves harvesting T cells from a patient’s blood, priming them to target cancer cells, multiplying them in the lab, and then reintroducing them to the patient. In some instances, donor T cells can be used.

Each T cell infusion contains a variety of immune cells with varying cancer-targeting abilities, therefore some cells are more effective at treating the disease than others.

These discrepancies are further amplified during cell multiplication in the lab where cell anti-cancer properties can change over time as new generations of ‘clone’ cells differ from their parents.

These discrepancies are further amplified during cell multiplication in the lab where cell anti-cancer properties can change over time as new generations of ‘clone’ cells differ from their parents.

The new method, called high-throughput T cell receptor sequencing, allows researchers to identify and track those T cells likely to have the most anti-cancer effect as well as those likely to persist in the patient for longer, according to lead author of the paper, Dr Aude Chapuis.

“We found that the cells in each patient’s immune system that will ultimately have a clinical effect are incredibly rare,” said Chapuis. “Knowing what we’ve found, we can now refine the selection of the cells that we will ultimately use for adoptive T cell transfer, so that the cells persist and keep the tumours at bay longer in our patients.”

The technology distinguishes between T cells based on receptors on the cells’ surfaces, giving each cell a ‘barcode’ coinciding with their structure.

To test their theory, researchers investigated T cell populations from 10 metastatic patients following adoptive T cell therapy. In two patients that went into complete remission, the team found that those T cells that made up the majority of the patient’s immune system were extremely rare prior to infusion.

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