"Our programme seeks not only to accelerate translation of novel cellular therapies into the clinic, but also to increase their accessibility. We want to better understand the impact of these new technologies from the patient perspective"
Professor Ronjon Chakraverty, Precision Cellular Therapeutics NIHR BTRU Lead
What challenges are we addressing?
Avoiding graft-versus-host disease
Stem cell transplants can be used to replace damaged blood and immune cells in patients with inherited blood disorders or blood cancers. Transplants work in blood cancer patients because donor immune cells attack the cancer, a process called graft-versus-leukaemia (or GVL). Unfortunately, donor immune cells may also overreact and attack healthy parts of a patient’s body, leading to graft-versus-host disease (or GVHD). If we could find ways of boosting GVL without causing GVHD, the treatment would be more effective and safer.
Increasing the number of donors
Identifying a suitable stem cell donor has become easier recently, but many patients, especially those from an ethnic minority, still have no suitable donor. One way around this issue is to use blood cells from the umblical cord. However, cord blood units often don't have enough stem cells for a safe transplant. If we could find a way to increase stem cell numbers in cord blood, we could use them in far more patients.
Improving access and follow-up
Some patients may fail to benefit from transplant or cellular therapies because individuals from some communities may not get the same access to treatment, or respond less well once they do. When at home, it can be difficult for patients to interact with their doctors and let them know how they are getting on. If we could better follow patients right from the start of their illness and throughout their treatment, we could ensure that more patients get access to cell therapies and deliver them with maximum safety.