Cell type provides new angle on immunity

New cell type discovered by A*STAR scientists could be harnessed for immunotherapy and vaccines

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SINGAPORE—Mid-May brought news that scientists at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore have identified a new immune cell type that they believe might represent a new target for immunotherapy treatments and vaccines. Specifically, the research team led by Dr. Florent Ginhoux at A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) discovered a new member of the dendritic cell family, which they have named pre-DC. Their findings were published in the journal Science on May 4 in a paper titled “Mapping the human DC lineage through the integration of high dimensional techniques.”
Dendritic cells are, as A*STAR put it, “the sentinels of the body’s immune system” and, as such, they detect and assess the threats posed by foreign pathogens to the body—then decide whether to initiate an immune response. Consequently, dendritic cells have great therapeutic potential to manipulate the immune system, A*STAR noted, and this discovery of the pre-DC population (so named because these cells are progenitors to mature dendritic cells) is “set to revolutionize research in the field.”
One of the more notable aspects of pre-DC cells according to A*STAR is that they exhibit properties that are similar to another dendritic cell type, human plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC), which are thought to protect the body against viral infections. Flow cytometry analysis revealed that pre-DC cells can always be found in what was originally thought to be solely pDC populations. This discovery, A*STAR said, “calls into question existing knowledge that pDC alone are entirely responsible for initiating an anti-virus response in the immune system, and has important repercussions for antiviral treatments and therapies.”
Ginhoux, who is senior principal investigator at SIgN, said: “Little was previously known about how dendritic cells originate in the immune system, apart from the fact that they likely arise in the bone marrow. For the first time, we have mapped the whole dendritic cell lineage, and in the process uncovered a new dendritic cell type. This was done through a combination of single cell transcriptomics, mass cytometry and high-dimensional flow cytometry, techniques that enabled us to study the development of dendritic cells in unprecedented detail.”
The SIgN researchers anticipate that their findings will be crucial in identifying dendritic cell targets for specific therapeutic applications, such as the development of next-generation vaccines or immunotherapy treatments.
In other recent news this spring from A*STAR and SIgN on the immunological front, late March brought news that a joint research project for an anti-dengue virus antibody between Japan’s Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and A*STAR had been selected as a grant recipient by the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund). Chugai and A*STAR have been engaged in the joint research since 2015.
This project was born through the collaboration of Chugai Pharmabody Research Pte. Ltd. (CPR), a research center of the Chugai Group in Singapore, and A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network. The dengue virus that causes dengue fever is known to have four different serotypes. SIgN researchers identified a new human antibody that is highly effective in neutralizing the activity of all four dengue virus serotypes, and CPR applied Chugai’s proprietary antibody engineering technologies to optimize the antibody. This project seeks to create a new antibody drug against the dengue virus. It has been selected to receive a $5.3-million grant based on its recognition by the GHIT Fund for contributing to the “fight against neglected tropical diseases in developing countries.”

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