Adoptive T cell transfer for cancer and chronic infection is an emerging field that shows promise in recent trials. Synthetic-biology-based engineering of T lymphocytes to express high-affinity antigen receptors can overcome immune tolerance, which has been a major limitation of immunotherapy-based strategies. Advances in cell engineering and culture approaches to enable efficient gene transfer and ex vivo cell expansion have facilitated broader evaluation of this technology, moving adoptive transfer from a "boutique" application to the cusp of a mainstream technology. The major challenge currently facing the field is to increase the specificity of engineered T cells for tumors, because targeting shared antigens has the potential to lead to on-target off-tumor toxicities, as observed in recent trials. As the field of adoptive transfer technology matures, the major engineering challenge is the development of automated cell culture systems, so that the approach can extend beyond specialized academic centers and become widely available.
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