The technical advance opens up the possibility of using stem cells derived from a patient’s skin as a source of key immune cells, called dendritic cells, which can orchestrate an immune response against a tumour. But much further work would be needed to turn this into a therapy ready to be used with cancer patients.
‘The patient would in effect be treated with their own immune cells to prime an attack on their tumour, but those cells would have been derived from a biopsy of their skin,’ explains Dr Paul Fairchild of the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University, who led the work.
The Oxford researchers used recently established techniques to turn skin cells from a healthy adult back into a stem cell state. These ‘induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells’ are capable of renewing themselves indefinitely and can be coaxed to form any cell type – muscle, nerve, heart