Combating infectious diseases with genetic engineering

As part of the drive to support junior research groups in research into infectious diseases, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is to provide 2,162,188 euros in funding from 2021 to 2026 for the research project ‘AGEnTS – Genetic Engineering of T-cells for Treating Infectious Diseases’ at FAU. The head of the project, which aims to combat drug-resistant pathogens using genetically modified immune cells, is Dr. Kilian Schober from the Institute of Microbiology – Clinical Microbiology, Immunology and Hygiene at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen.

The team led by Dr. Schober aims to use innovative genetic engineering methods to modify T-cells, a specific type of immune cell, and render them compatible for transfer to people with a suppressed immune system who are suffering from what can, in their case, potentially prove to be a fatal infection with herpes viruses. The researchers hope that the physiologically modified cells will strengthen the immune system and help it combat herpes viruses which have become resistant to medication.

Although transferring natural T-cells is already possible, and has proven to be an effective method of treatment, it is complicated, expensive and has to be tailored specifically to each individual patient. The team of researchers at FAU plans to modify T-cells using gene scissors, rendering them suitable for use as a treatment in a wide range of patients whilst ensuring that they remain very similar to natural cells. In the long term, it is hoped that this type of treatment will also be used to treat other infectious diseases in which the pathogens have become resistant to the most commonly used drugs and are notoriously difficult to treat.

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