Fungal lung infections could be treated with modified immune cells known as CAR T-cells, a study in mice suggests.

Aspergillus fumigatus is a ubiquitous mold that can cause severe infections in immunocompromised patients, typically manifesting as invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA). Adaptive and innate immune cells that respond to A. fumigatus are present in the endogenous repertoire of patients with IPA but are infrequent and cannot be consistently isolated and expanded for adoptive immunotherapy. Read more here.

How invasive pulmonary aspergillosis get into the lungs

People often breathe in a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus that is commonly found in the air and soil. When we are healthy, our immune systems can normally clear any fungus out of the lungs before it causes harm.

However, in people with suppressed immune systems – which can result from cancer treatment or receiving transplants, for example – the fungus can grow in the lungs, causing breathlessness and, in extreme cases, death.

This condition, called invasive pulmonary aspergillosis, is often treated using antifungal drugs, but such medicines can damage the kidney and liver, and don’t always work against some variants of A. fumigatus.

In search of an alternative treatment, Michael Hudecek at University Hospital Würzburg in Germany and his colleagues took immune cells called T-cells that had been donated by people without immune system issues. They then modified them to produce proteins on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs. The CARs bind to proteins on the fungus cell wall. The resultant cells, known as CAR T-cells, can track down and kill invasive cells once infused into the body. Read more here.