Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Potential New Way to Attack Aspergillosis?

There has been notable success in the clinical application of a recent advance in cancer research whereby patients with Chronic Lymphoid Leukemia (CLL) have been treated with T cells that have been modified so as to target them directly at the cancer cells. T cells are an important part of our response to infection and help our bodies attack and destroy invading microbes or other foreign material.

The targeting is carried out by inserting a specific gene (Chimeric Antigen Receptors) into the T cells so as to enable the to recognise tumour specific cell surface proteins. Presumably the T cells can then recognise the cancer cells, attach to them and aid their destruction with high efficiency. Thus far we have tried this in two patients who have cancer and have achieved total remission of the cancer after 11 months. Remarkable!

Green fungal spore attacked by modified T cells

This new research group are now attempting the same thing but this time the targeted illness is not cancer but aspergillosis. They are using the same techniques but this time are guiding the T cells to the fungal cell wall and have had good success so far. They are not yet at the stage where they can start to treat 'real patients' but have released several videos (see link to paper above) that show cells attaching to the germinating fungus and killing it. The image above is a still from one of those videos - the green object in the middle is a germinating fungal spore which is surrounded by activated T cells that ultimately destroy it. Experiments in mice have also given positive results.

This may well result in a useful addition to our weaponry as we attack fungal infection - time will tell how effective it will be but we can speculate that combined with antifungal drugs that utilise different targets of attack we will have more chance of nullifying fungal infection in future.

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