As the fight against COVID-19 continues, the use of CAR-T or TCR-T therapies may be able to help treat patients infected, but more research is needed.
The last decade of research has provided significant advances in anti-cancer immunotherapies. Particularly, the development of genetically modified T-cells has been successful in treating various types of cancers. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and T-cell receptor (TCR) T-cell therapy are major examples of highly studied immunotherapies. CAR-T cells recognize proteins or antigens expressed on the surface of cancer cells, whereas TCR-T cells recognize tumor antigens inside the cells.
Harnessing the CAR-T and TCR-T approaches have been proposed to treat viral infections like hepatitis B and HIV. Scientists at Duke-NUS Medical School (a Duke University and the National University of Singapore collaboration), are studying the use of these technologies for the prevention and treatment of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. One of the researchers of the Duke team, Dr. Bertoletti, has previously developed TCR-T cells that recognize SARS of the 2002 epidemic.
T-cell receptor gene transfer was used to develop SARS-specific cytotoxic T-cells made from cells of healthy people. The cells were able to produce cytokines such as gamma interferon and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. The cytokine production profile was comparable to the SARS-specific memory CD8+ T-cells present in individuals who had recovered from the SARS infection. This suggests that the adoptive transfer of COVID-19−specific T-cells may be an effective treatment for infection with the virus.
There are some potential downsides to the use of CAR-T or TCR-T for COVID-19 that must be considered and overcome. Fatalities have occurred subsequent to cytokine storms or other toxicity events in patients treated with a very high number of engineered T-cells. One way to address this dilemma is to engineer CAR/TCR T-cells using mRNA electroporation. This limits the T cells’ duration of activity. Also suggested is that combination therapy with an anti-viral and CAR/TCR T-cells may prove to be safe and effective. Focused and rigorous research is needed to refine the immunotherapy approach for the treatment of COVID-19 and other viral diseases.
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Scientists explore using CAR-T and other engineered immune cells to target COVID-19. (2020). Retrieved 10 June 2020, from https://www.fiercebiotech.com/research/scientists-explore-using-engineered-t-cells-to-target-covid-19