University of Helsinki Researchers Develop Controlled Proliferation Cells for Safer and Effective Cell Therapies

University of Helsinki Researchers Develop Controlled Proliferation Cells for Safer and Effective Cell Therapies

(IN BRIEF) Researchers at the University of Helsinki and HUS Helsinki University Hospital have developed a groundbreaking technique to control cell proliferation, enhancing the safety and efficacy of cell therapies. Published in Molecular Therapy, the study details how modified stem cells only divide in the presence of thymidine, a key DNA component, preventing unchecked growth and reducing the risk of cancer. Led by Docent Kirmo Wartiovaara, the research demonstrates successful application in creating insulin-producing cells for animal models, marking a significant advancement in safe and tailored cell therapy approaches.

(PRESS RELEASE) HELSINKI, 9-Jul-2024 — /EuropaWire/ — Researchers from the University of Helsinki and HUS Helsinki University Hospital have achieved a significant breakthrough in cell therapy technology, developing cells that can be tightly controlled to prevent uncontrolled proliferation. This innovation, detailed in the Molecular Therapy journal, addresses critical challenges in gene and cell therapy by minimizing the risk of unintended DNA mutations and cancer formation associated with traditional approaches.

Led by Docent Kirmo Wartiovaara, the study focused on modifying stem cells to only divide in the presence of thymidine, a crucial DNA building block. This safety mechanism ensures that cells cease dividing once transplanted and differentiated, thereby reducing the potential for malignant transformation. Doctoral Researcher Rocio Sartori Maldonado highlighted the successful application of these modified cells in creating insulin-producing β-cells that regulated blood glucose levels in animal models over a six-month period.

The breakthrough not only enhances the safety of cell therapies but also opens avenues for developing customizable, immune-compatible cell products for diverse medical applications. Protected by Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS), this innovation represents a significant step towards advancing safer and more effective cellular treatments for various diseases and conditions.

A safety system halts cell division

The researchers modified stem cells to divide only if they are supplemented with thymidine, one of the building blocks of DNA. The cells that have been subjected to this safety treatment cannot replicate their genome without the supplementary component vital for DNA synthesis. This precludes their proliferation. When the cells are differentiated for their various tasks, they cease to divide and no longer require the supplement. The innovation has been protected by the University’s Helsinki Innovation services (HIS).

Initially, the researchers investigated whether cell growth can be regulated with an externally administered substance. Once successful, they examined whether the cells functioned normally.

“We used stem cells to create insulin-producing β-cells that we then transplanted into laboratory animals. The cells regulated the blood glucose levels of the animals throughout the almost six-month experiment,” says Doctoral Researcher Rocio Sartori Maldonado from the University of Helsinki.

“The cells are also able to differentiate into other tissue types as usual, and we have not observed any differences in them other than their inability to proliferate without our say-so,” he adds.

A technique that enables safe cell editing

Stem cells are very primitive cells, as they have to be able to divide in abundance and develop in many different directions. They have potential for a range of purposes, but their primitive nature also poses a problem: what if some cells are not differentiated, but continue to grow in a primitive form? According to Wartiovaara, the supervisor of the study, the research group’s solution enables the efficient proliferation of cells during production, which can be halted at the desired time, such as following transplantation.

The solution also makes it possible to edit cells without fear of adverse effects of the editing itself. For example, cells can be made into something that the recipient’s immune system does not recognise.

“Previously, such cells would have been highly risky, as the immune system also monitors the onset of cancer. Now, that risk is very small or non-existent. Ideally, these cells could be turned into products suited to everyone and, when necessary, quickly deployed,” Wartiovaara says.

The innovation has been protected by Helsinki Innovation services (HIS).

The study is the main article in Rocio Sartori Maldonado’s doctoral thesis, supervised at the Biomedicum Stem Cell Center of the Biomedicum Helsinki research institute by Docent Kirmo Wartiovaara.

Media Contact:

Kirmo Wartiovaara
Senior Researcher

SOURCE: University of Helsinki


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