Neutrophils, white blood cells, play an important role in the human immune system. For a long time, however, it remained undiscovered that these could also have an important role in combating malignant cell growth. Molecular Biotechnology graduate Samantha Vanessa Göber provided new insights into this in her master’s thesis. This work earned her the 2020 Ministry of Science Award.
Neutrophils are the most short-lived immune defense cells. They are the first cells to be recruited at the site of inflammation and, depending on the environmental signals, have an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effect. The cells are very fragile. For example, they only survive outside the body for a few hours and respond to any type of treatment.
Samantha Vanessa Göber succeeded in extracting human neutrophils using a gentle isolation method and cultivating them in such a way that they remain viable. Although this step was only part of the preparation for her investigation, it was already a first milestone, because the procedure for doing this was known, but not the suitable conditions to keep the cells alive.
The isolation made it possible to add the neutrophils to an in vitro 3D model in which they encountered tumor cells and other tissue cells. In this model, proteins form the structure in which the natural interaction between cells can be observed better than in a two-dimensional Petri dish. Experiments can thus be carried out much more flexibly. In addition, test animals, as is customary with the known in vivo laboratory models, are no longer needed.
For the first time, the cancer-inhibiting or cancer-promoting effect of neutrophils on tumor tissue can be researched in vitro. This could open up new possibilities for immunotherapy to treat cancer.
Samantha Vanessa Göber has been working in quality control at Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company, at the site for gene therapy and biologics production in Orth an der Donau since completing her studies.