SENS6 Favorites: Reprogramming the immune system: Clinical trials at University of California. SRF Intern Ethan Sarnoski on talk by Matthew Scholz, founder and CEO of Immusoft
The following is an account of the 2013 SENS6: Reimagine Aging Conference at Queens' College, Cambridge from SRF intern Ethan Sarnoski.
The most amazing thing to me about the SENS conferences is their perennial appeal to the non-scientist. It’s interesting to see how many people from unrelated backgrounds come to watch highly technical talks on biochemistry, molecular biology, and regenerative medicine. This is most likely owing to the incredible advances in research being presented at the conference.
My SENS6 Experience
From 8:30 am to 10:00 pm, almost twelve hours of intensive talks for three consecutive days, broken only by a quick meal, coffee break and cocktail hour - that was the SENS6: Reimagine Aging Conference experience. The grueling schedule might have been a test of endurance were it not for the quality of the speakers and the diverse array of aging-related topics being covered – from therapeutic interventions for age-related degeneration to the economic and social implications of an extended healthspan. It was enough to keep me glued to my front-row seat for the duration of the conference.
However, even those breaks between presentations weren’t really breaks. They were all-important opportunities for cross-talk between experts in different fields, such as biogerontology and regenerative medicine. I think that’s one of the strengths of the SENS Conference series: bringing together the greatest minds from a wide range of fields to share their ideas to combat aging-related diseases and to imagine even better ones.
In the midst of all this activity, I nonetheless made time to take notes on the proceedings, and I’d like to tell you about one particularly engaging presentation: that of the founder and CEO of Immusoft Matthew Scholz’s description of the current state of Immusoft’s Immune System Programming (ISPTM) technology.
How Immusoft will turn a patient’s own cells into drug factories
ISPTM technology involves the genetic modification of specialized protein-secreting cells called plasmablasts. Plasmablasts are partially mature B lymphocytes with substantial but limited ability to proliferate. The Immusoft research team reprograms these cells, instructing them to secrete a therapeutic protein in addition to their normal products. Ultimately, the team hopes to translate this process to human medicine by collecting plasmablasts from a patient, modifying and expanding their numbers outside the body, and then reintroducing the modified plasmablasts as therapeutic protein factories. In other words, the Immusoft technology will program a patient’s own immune cells to produce a therapeutic protein.
Immusoft has already overcome several major hurdles on the way to realizing this objective. In three separate experiments, the research team has demonstrated the ability to program plasmablasts to express a green fluorescent protein, an HIV antibody, and a lysosomal enzyme. These experiments indicate that plasmablasts are capable of producing a wide array of different proteins. Studies also indicate that modified plasmablasts can be safely and effectively reintroduced into mice. No negative side effects were observed during these experiments, and modified plasmablasts injected into mice survived for weeks, suggesting the plasmablasts could be used to produce therapeutic proteins for a prolonged period of time. In addition to the trials that have thus far proven free of side effects, Immusoft also designed an inducible suicide gene as an emergency off-switch for clinicians.
Preparations are currently underway for a clinical trial in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, where programmed plasmablasts will be used to secrete broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV. These antibodies have been observed in HIV-resistant elite controllers, but have not been successfully elicited through conventional vaccine strategies.
Production of these antibodies with ISPTM cells represents a promising prophylactic measure for the prevention of HIV. Further studies may allow Immusoft’s ISPTM technology to address such issues as age-related degeneration, optimization of blood cholesterol levels, and multiple rare diseases.