According to the National Cancer Institute, T cells are white blood cells apart of the immune system that “develop from stem cells in the bone marrow and can protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer.”
But, while battling cancer, many patients’ T cells can become so exhausted that they are no longer able to function properly.
And while it is possible for early T cell exhaustion to be reversed via immunotherapy drugs, late-stage T cell exhaustion has long been regarded as irreversible.
Although, promising new research from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the University of Pittsburgh has found otherwise.
The study, which has since been published in Science Immunology, found that even the most exhausted T cells still hold the potential of being revived and becoming functional again.
The research team has also identified new approaches to fight back against T cell exhaustion.
“People think about terminally exhausted T cells as a lost cause, that there’s no coming back from this state,” explained Amanda Pholek, the study’s co-senior author.
“But, given the right circumstances– the T cell version of rest– we show that they can come back.”
The researchers’ findings are based upon an analysis of early and terminally exhausted T cells in mice that had an aggressive melanoma– in which they performed cell epigenome profiling.