A Hombros de Gigantes is a RNE radio show about science communication hosted by Manuel Seara Valero. Their last episode, on Condensed Matter Physics, explored the new 3D printed hydrogels for T-cell growth with the help of guests Alejandro Parrilla, from the CSIC Communication Department, and with ICMAB Researcher Judith Guasch, from the Molecular Nanoscience and Organic Materials (NANOMOL) Group, who is part of the original team that designed these structures.
In her section, Judith Guasch describes how these hydrogel structures can help grow modified T cells, which are the part of the body’s own inmune system that attack tumoral cells. These cells can be extracted from the body (through a blood sample), and with the help of these hydrogels which simulate the lymph nodes in the body, the T cells can be reproduced and then reintroduced in the body.
As Judith Guasch points out, the 3D structures are not only the scaffold for the T cells to grow. They also apply physicochemical stimuli that help the cells be more rigid and active. These genetically modified T cells help reinforce the patients' inmune system without introducing external agents.
The synthesis of these hydrogels is done through a layering of polyethylene glycol (PEG) and heparin in a predetermined 3D structure designed to get an optimal exchange of nutrients, and gases during the whole process. The construction is precise enough that in the future the hydrogels could possibly mimic real lymph nodes much more precisely.
This technology could be extremely useful in Adoptive Cell Therapy, the type of treatment that focuses on giving the body more tools to detect and fight tumoral cells without damaging healthy tissue. Judith Guasch identifies this as one of the key improvements of this method over other traditional therapies. Adoptive Cell Therapy can bypass consequences like the hair loss associated to chemotherapy or the burns that happen during radiotherapy. Another benefit of this process is that, in some cases, the genetically modified T cells that are reintroduced in the body can stay active for years, giving the patient long-term protection that can help fight tumoral cells for years after the reintroduction of the cells.
While the prototype is still in the process of achieving technical validation to be used in clinics, Judth Guasch expects this treatment to arrive to hospitals in a shorter time than most pharmaceutic drugs, since the only thing entering the patient is their own T cells, and not the hydrogel itself.
A hombre de gigante - Física de la Materia Condensada para definir la sociedad presente y futura - 13/09/2020 (from minute 18:00):
This technology has had a lot of impact since the original article, CCL21-loaded hydrogels for T cell expansion and differentiation, was published, and its relevance has been echoed through the media. Besides this apparition in A Hombros de Gigantes this new hydrogel has appeared in several other media outlets. These are some of the news that have been written about it:
CCL21-loaded hydrogels for T cell expansion and differentiation
Eduardo Pérez del Río, Fabião Santos, Xavier Rodriguez Rodriguez, Marc Martinez Miguel, Ramon Roca Pinilla, Anna Arís, Elena Garcia-Fruitós, Jaume Veciana, Joachim P. Spatz, Imma Ratera, Judith Guasch
Biomaterials, 259, 120313, 2020
Cover image: Simplified diagram showing the process of adoptive cell therapy: extraction of cells, expansion and differentiation, and injection of cells into patients / Biomaterials (259, 120313, 2020)