When we think of bioengineering to improve or enhance the immune system and or its cells, one must first target a specific problem, break it down, and then explore solutions. How is the immune system failing? You may ask, how can I get the outcome I need? One approach to a solutions may lie in educating the system and cells as in a vaccination process. Another consideration would be to use a drug delivery system to cause a direct change. Alternatively, you may ask, do I change a cell behavior? A spectrum of genetic therapies might be considered, which could be game changers because they have the potential to alter cell behavior. On the other hand, structural changes to the cells may be a possible way to bolster cell function. At the heart of this work is to find a way into the cells. Getting into the cell will allow work on a cellular and molecular level, hence the exploration of nanotechnology.
Vaccines have proven to be a very effective way to protect our body against specific diseases. How exactly does a vaccine do this? Vaccines essentially teach the immune cells how to fight a specific disease. A vaccine teaches the immune cells how to fight a disease by activating the specific immune response, which after the battle, creates memory cells. To begin, the dead or weakened form of the pathogen is injected into the body. This activates the specific immune response of both the B-cells and T-cells. Next, the B-cells respond to the antigens by producing antibodies to fight the weaken pathogen. After the fight, both the T-cells and B-cells create memory cells that will recognize and destroy the specific pathogen for decades. Finally, in the event of a future exposure, the memory cells will immediately recognize and destroy the pathogen resulting in a faster and stronger immune response than the first. In the end, the vaccine prepares the immune system with ammunition and tools to recognize and destroy a pathogen to protect the body against future infection. Thus, the pathogen is often eradicating before it is even noticed. In the end, it is these memory cells that will be ready and waiting to attack quickly and effectively if a secondary infection occurred. This is the way we acquire passive immunity.
Genetic therapies can alter a gene, which will change the way a cell behaves. Gene therapies can be used to treat genetic disease. They can also change the behavior of the way an immune cell responses to a disease. However, genetic therapy is extremely challenging because the targeted gene must be located, and a specific corrective therapy must be developed. In addition, a viable vector must deliver the gene, and then the gene needs to be integrated into the cell's transcription and translation, ultimately altering the DNA of the cell in a permanent way.
Dr. Tarek Falmy and his team of engineers at Yale University are stretching the boundaries of bioengineering in their cutting- edge work with nanotechnology and drug delivery which is both boosting the immune system and the effectiveness of cancer drugs. Dr. Fahmy's work with nanogel technology is a new and promising technology for the delivery of drugs to the micro environments of cancerous tumors. " The nanogels allow for the delivery of multiple drugs that can come out slowly over time to a specific cancer site, explains Dr. Falmy in his video interview with the New Haven Register.
"There is a promising path forward here for cancer therapy in general," said Yale bioengineer Tarek M. Fahmy, lead researcher and author of a new paper in the journal Nature Materials."
Furthermore, Dr. Tarek Falmy and his creative, visionary team of bioengineers are growing T-cells on nanotubes and are exploring genetic therapies and modifications that will enhance the cells, thus improving their functioning. These improved cells may be able to fight our most challenging diseases and offer hope to the once hopeless.