Our cells are full of impossible possibilities. Virtually every human cell contains a number of genes that are needed to complete each cell. A skin cell, for example, contains genes similar to those of a muscle or brain neuron, but in each cell type only a few genes are activated, while others are silent. It’s like making a variety of foods out of a mixer cabinet. If we understand the recipes for every type of cell, then we can use this knowledge to make every type of cell in the human body.
That is Mark Kotter’s goal. Kotter is the CEO and cofounder of little bio-a company in Cambridge, UK, which seeks to revolutionize clinical research and the availability of drugs through the development of well-designed groups of human cells. Early scientific research into new drugs and treatments often begins with testing of mice, or in the lines of the most commonly used human cells: kidney cells and cervical cancer cells. This can be difficult, because the cells being tested may have significant differences in the cells that the selected drug is supposed to target in the human body. Drugs that work on mice may be ineffective when tested in humans. “No mouse in the world has ever had Alzheimer’s disease, there is none,” says Kotter. But try the possibility Alzheimer’s Friend on a human brain cell designed to be symptomatic of Alzheimer’s disease may provide a clear indication of whether a drug may be effective.
“Cells of each type have their own programming codec, or codecode – a combination of dynamic objects that interpret,” says Kotter. By inserting the right stem into a stem cell, researchers are able to introduce genes that contain the code for these transcription factors and transform the stem into a more mature stem cell. Unfortunately, biology has a way of dealing with it. Cells often block genes, preventing markers from forming. Kotter’s response – obtained as part of his research at the University of Cambridge – is to put the program in a genome-protected area, which Kotter calls a “safe port.”
Bit.bio currently sells two refined lines: muscle cells and another type of brain neuron, but the system is to create cell lines that can be used in the pharmaceutical industry and academic research. “What we are doing with our partners now is making genetic mutations that are appropriate for the disease,” says Kotter. He compared this method to running software on a computer. By inserting the appropriate piece of code into the genome of a cell, you can improve the structure of the cell. “That means we can now run programs, and we can regenerate human cells,” says Kotter. Cell remodeling technology can also go beyond the basics and help develop new types of medicine, such as cell therapies.
In some cells of the immune system, the patient’s immune cells grow out of the body before they are replaced and reintroduced into it to help fight infection – a long and expensive process. One form of cell therapy used to treat adolescents with leukemia costs more than £ 280,000 ($ 371,400) per patient. Bit.bio chief medical officer Ramy Ibrahim says the company’s expertise could help reduce the cost of cellular support and make it easier to make immune cells at a higher rate. “With so many suitable cells that we can change now, I think it can change,” he says.
Some of the Best WIRED Stories