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Reprogramming immune sentinels

In a world first, a research team has successfully reprogrammed mouse and human skin cells into immune cells called dendritic cells.

The process is quick and effective, representing a pioneering contribution to applying direct reprogramming for inducing immunity.

The finding, by researchers at Lund University in Sweden, opens up the possibility of developing novel dendritic cell-based immunotherapies against cancer.

Our dendritic cells function as the immune system’s sentinels. Their task is to scan our tissues for foreign particles, such as bacteria, viruses or cancer cells, and to devour them.

They subsequently break down the particles into smaller pieces, known as antigens, and present them on the surface to the immune system’s killer cells (T-cells). In this way, the killer cells learn which infectious agents and cancer cells they are to search for and kill.

Due to these key features, dendritic cell-based strategies have been tested to treat cancer patients.

However, cancer can affect the dendritic cells in such a way that they get lost or become dysfunctional.

Now, for the first time, the research team in Lund has succeeded in obtaining dendritic cells by a process called “direct reprogramming”.

They have identified three essential proteins (PU.1, IRF8 and BATF3) that are required and sufficient to change the identity of mouse cells to make them become dendritic cells nstead.

They have also confirmed that the same protein cocktail reprograms human skin-derived cells to dendritic cells.

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