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What's new in January 2021

Improving CAR T cell immunotherapy

T cell.
In CAR T cell therapy, immune cells are engineered to recognize and attack harmful cells. This approach has shown success in treating certain types of advanced cancers, but CAR T cells can also trigger inflammation as a toxic side effect. HSCI researchers led by Benjamin Ebert have developed a way to better control the activity of CAR T cells.
  • What they did: The researchers engineered switchable CAR T cells that can be turned on or off by giving a commonly used cancer drug, lenalidomide. 
  • What they found: The CAR T cells designed with a molecular OFF-switch could be quickly and reversibly turned off by administering the drug. Additionally, CAR T cells designed with an ON-switch only killed tumor cells during drug treatment.
  • Why it matters: Improved control over CAR T cells will lead to safer and more targeted cell therapies.

Genome sequencing directly in the cell

DNA sequencing inside a cell.
HSCI researchers led by Fei Chen and Jason Buenrostro have developed a new method to sequence DNA directly within cells.
  • What they did: The traditional method of DNA sequencing involves grinding up cells and putting the separated DNA into a sequencer machine. The researchers developed a new method to read DNA sequences directly inside the cell, which preserves important information about the DNA’s physical structure.
  • What they found: The researchers tested their approach on a single-cell embryo and were able to visualize the earliest moments of life, where DNA from each parent is separate right after fertilization, then gradually intertwines as development progresses. 
  • Why it matters: The technology creates new opportunities to investigate a broad range of biology, such as the structural changes and chromosomal rearrangements that are associated with aging, cancer, brain disorders, and other diseases.

Neurons dynamically control their myelin patterns

Neurons and their surrounding myelin.
HSCI’s Paola Arlotta has discovered a new way that the brain responds to stimuli, with different types of neurons using myelin in different ways.
  • What they did: Myelin is the insulating coating around neurons’ long axon projections that helps with signal conduction. To study how myelination patterns change over time, the researchers used mouse models where different neuron types are fluorescently labeled.
  • What they found: Different neuron types controlled their myelin in different ways, even if they were next to each other and part of the same network.
  • Why it matters: By dynamically controlling myelin, neurons have more ways to adapt to changes. With this better understanding of how the brain works, the researchers can investigate the mechanisms of diseases that involve myelin abnormalities, such as multiple sclerosis.
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