Bioengineered Soft Microfibers Improve T-Cell Production


Source: Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Summary: A research team has developed a new method for improving T-cell manufacture by focusing on the materials involved in this process. The method uses a polymer mesh to activate the T cells, a critical step for their production.


A T-cell or T-lymphocyte is a subtype of white blood cells and a part of cell-mediated immunity plays a key role in the body’s immune response against pathogens. T-cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, chemical-based approaches in the new calls of therapeutic approaches. But the problem with the current approaches is the production of sufficient numbers of high-quality T-cells. A research team from the Columbia Engineering has developed a new method for improving T-cell manufacture by focusing on the materials involved in this process. The method uses a polymer mesh to activate the T cells, a critical step for their production. This approach simplifies processing by making the fibers out of a mechanically soft material improved T-cell growth and it outperforms the current gold standard on several fronts.

Used for T-cell production

Columbia biomedical engineers use soft fibers (red) to activate T cells (green), improving cellular immunotherapy. Credit: Lance Kam/Columbia Engineering

The team was inspired by the field of mechanobiology (field of science at the interface of biology and engineering) to test the effect of a softer material on T-cell production. The soft mesh material increases the number of functional cells that can be produced in a single step. The exciting part is that they have been able to expand cells isolated from patients undergoing treatment for leukemia. These cells are often very difficult to activate and expand, and this has been a barrier to using cellular immunotherapy for the people who need it. Beyond simplifying the process of cell expansion and improving T-cells expansion, researchers envision that the mesh platform will have applications beyond immunotherapy. They are refining their platform and exploring how T cells from cancer patients respond to their materials.

Assoc. Prof. Lance C. Kam said, “This makes sense for cells normally involved in force-related activities, like muscle cells or fibroblasts that are involved in wound closure and healing. Our group was one of the first to explore this possibility for T cells, which are not associated with such functions.”


More Information: Alex P.Dang et al, “Enhanced activation and expansion of T cells using mechanically soft elastomer fibers”, Advanced Biosystems (2018). DOI: 10.1002/adbi.201700167 


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