Immune cells on a large scale
The ingenious design – in 3D, instead of the previous 2D design at the bottom of a petri dish – is what makes the process really stand out. It means that the researchers are able to produce significantly larger quantities of the designer immune cells and the scale can be expanded as required. As Prof. Lachmann states: “We spent three years researching the ideal medium, angle and speed for the standardized production of immune cells from iPSCs and have repeatedly adjusted many parameters along the way. This optimized method is a great asset for investigating and evaluating drug candidates because we can test their efficacy and safety directly in human target structures without having to use animal experiments, which are effectively the long way round.”
Initially, his team specialized in macrophages, which are scavenger cells that fight bacteria and form an important element in the human immune response. The next step will see Prof. Lachmann and his team establishing cell-based potency assays (for cancer drugs, as an example). These test systems can measure the potency of biological and bioengineered drugs and play an essential role in the quality control and re-
lease testing of active ingredients and drugs. Based on their key technology for the continuous production of macrophages, the researchers also intend to develop new manufacturing processes for various fully standardized immune cell products and cell-based immunotherapies, thereby opening up many additional applications.
A whole host of applications
The potential of designer immune cells is huge – to take one example, they can be genetically modified to light up when they detect impurities in drugs, something that has been very laborious to identify until now. Artificial skin tissue, which is already being used to test cosmetics, could be enriched with immune cells to better reproduce the reactions of a human organism. Another possible scenario would include the use of such cells to test air quality. When people breathe in, their macrophages and other immune cells are the first to react to pollutants in the air. Furthermore, there is the therapeutic effect that the cells may have: In the future, specifically adapted and artificially produced immune cells may even be used to cure diseases in patients, such as cancer.
With all this in mind, it is hardly surprising that pharmaceutical companies and research organizations have already expressed a keen interest in the process and are enthusiastic about designer immune cells. As Prof. Lachmann is happy to confirm: “This demand is a clear sign that our technology has great potential for practical exploitation – something that we are assessing at the moment.”