Scientists make immune organ that can produce antibodies: System could help understand how various chemicals and environmental toxins cause infections and organ malfunctioning.

Engineers at the Cornell University have been successful at creating a first synthetic immune organ that is capable of producing antibodies in-vitro (outside of a living organism).

The functional immune organ could potentially help researchers generate novel immune therapies for treating cancer and infectious diseases. The study was published online in Biomaterials and will be available in print soon.

The immune organoid was developed in the laboratory of Ankur Singh, assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Singh applied the basics of engineering to the science and manipulation of the immune system.

The organoid was made using gelatin-based biomaterials coupled with silicate nano-particles and seeded with cells. This resulted in the creation of a bio-inspired synthetic organ that resembles a secondary immune organ, such as the spleen or lymph node.

The organ mimics the natural microenvironment of a lymphoid tissue – converting B cells (cells that produce antibodies against foreign agents) into germinal centers (clusters of B cells that activate, mature and mutate their antibody-producing genes) in the presence of an infection. Engineers have also demonstrated how they can manage this immune response, controlling the rate at which B cells proliferate and are activated.

Engineers claim that this 3-D organoid is 100 times more efficient in producing activate B cells as compared to the existing 2-D models. “You can use our system to force the production of immunotherapeutics at much faster rates,” Singh said.

Furthermore, the structural composition of the synthetic organ prevents it from melting at the physiologically normal temperature of 98.6 oF.

The propositions of this study could lead to a better understanding of the functionality of B cells, which is currently done using animal models. Singh also suggests that specific infections and the body’s immune responses against them could also be studied in detail, such as HIV and Ebola. Moreover, this system could help understand how various chemicals and environmental toxins cause infections and organ malfunctioning.

“In the long run, we anticipate that the ability to drive immune reaction ex-vivo at controllable rates grants us the ability to reproduce immunological events with tuneable parameters for better mechanistic understanding of B cell development and generation of B cell tumours, as well as screening and translation of new classes of drugs,” claimed Singh.