"Our goal is to make more effective therapies by taking advantage of the natural capabilities of our immune system and introducing slight modifications in cases where it is not doing what we would like it to do," Smolke said. She hopes to translate her technologies into intelligent cellular therapeutics for glioma patients in the next five years. "That's a very optimistic view," she said. "But so far things have been moving quickly."
The broader implications for using intelligent molecules in immunotherapy and gene therapy seem limitless. Researchers and doctors can use this approach by targeting a specific cellular function or behavior they want to control in a particular disease. Then they can identify signals indicative of viral infection, host immune response, or drugs the clinician is administering and engineer the molecules to change the cell function in response to those signals.
"In a lot of therapies, you have nonspecific side effects or you're balancing the desired effect of the therapy on diseased cells or infection with its undesired effects on the entire host," Smolke said. Current chemotherapy treatments for cancer, and even many gene therapies, have drastic and debilitating consequences for patients. The designer molecules provide a whole new targeting accuracy that should mitigate these side effects.
"This is all very front-end work," Smolke said. "We've just started to move these foundational technologies into these sorts of downstream medical applications, and so there is a lot to learn which makes it that much more exciting."
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|