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June 13th, 2008

Horizons For Immunotherapy

I'm given to note that progress in targeted therapies - in particular those that use nanoparticles like dendrimers to string together homing mechanisms with cell destruction payloads - is very important. All sorts of cells need killing as we get older, to prevent the damage they cause: cancer cells, senescent cells, and so forth. Targeted nanoparticle therapies will soon provide a broad and extensible technology platform to get that job done, for any cell whose biochemistry we know how to distinguish, thus lightening the load of age-related damage in our bodies.

When you stop to think about it, we already have a flexible, targeted cell destruction therapy roaming our bodies from day one: it's called the immune system. Immune cells are very much more sophisticated than the dendrimers being built in laboratories today, and are capable of destroying much more than just errant cells. Any biochemical that can be broken down within a cell is fair game, not just those biochemicals that make up our cells.

Looking ahead, we can see three paths:

* The path of nanoparticles, nanoscale targeting devices and payloads to destroy the specific cells

* The path of manipulating our immune system into destroying targeted cells and cleaning up specific biochemicals

* The merged path: artificial cells built to have a limited subset of natural immune cell functions, and set to a specific cleanup task within the body

I expect it'll be a good 20 years or so before we see the first practical applications of artificial cells in this area, though present progress suggests less complex projects will emerge more rapidly than that. For the purposes of this post, I'm more interested in what will result from work on immune therapies over the next decade, alongside the clinical application of targeted nanoparticle therapies.


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