The Fight against Cancer: Reprogramming Skin Cells into Immune Cells

Our Immune System

The human body has its own natural ways to fight against invasion from foreign bodies. This self-defense system is known as the immune system, which is composed of lymphocytes such as T cells, B cells, and antibodies. Without these immune cells, our body can become very vulnerable to attack from foreign organisms. However, just having these cells is not enough. The T-cells themselves are heavily reliant on immune system sentinels known as dendritic cells to detect suspicious invading organisms and subsequently alert our immune system.



Treating Cancer

Many modalities of treatment are currently available for cancer such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy. Although none of the available methods are guaranteed to work, there have been some promising clinical research results in immunotherapy.


Immunotherapy manipulates our body’s immune system to attack only the cancerous cells. This therapy relies on the killer T cells to destroy the abnormal tumor cells with the assistance of helper T cells.

Research on combining immunotherapy with cellular reprogramming

Research conducted by Lund University in Sweden has recently developed a method of transforming human skin cells into immune system sentinels. This could make immunotherapy relatively safer than it has previously been.

The main drawback of immunotherapy is the difficulty in enabling the immune cells to just target the tumor cells. Enabling your own immune system against cancerous cells is not as easy as it sounds. The dendritic cells may function unusually and act in abnormal ways due to cancer. All cancer patients may not be suitable for this treatment because in some cases your body may reject the treatment itself.

However, when the immune cells and their sentinels are created from the patient’s own body, the risk of treatment rejection can be significantly minimized. This can be achieved by direct reprogramming. According to recently published research in the journal Science Immunology, this method can act fast and effectively.

Filipe Pereira, leader of the research team has stated: By simply excising a tissue section from the skin, millions of cells can be cultivated and reprogrammed to function as dendritic cells by this process within just nine days. Once these cells are reprogrammed, they can alert the body’s immune system to the presence of cancerous cells. These cells can also be guided to pursue specific targets before being reintroduced into the body.

Promising results

The research result has provided proof of principle that immune responses can be induced by directly reprogramming cells. This can be achieved by combining several transcription factors to induce skin cells to function as Antigen Presenting Cells. These cells can then secrete inflammatory cytokines with the ability to engulf foreign particles, proteins, and dead cells. The results of this research have shown incredible value in merging immunotherapy with cellular reprogramming.

Although cellular immunotherapy is a comparatively new field still under research, it shows promising results in the fight against cancer.


Scientists Have Discovered How to Recruit And Reprogram Skin Cells to Fight Cancer

Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into antigen-presenting dendritic cells 



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