WSLHD researchers developing new cell therapy to treat chronic hepatitis B virus infections

Senior Scientist Dr Scott Read at Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) has been awarded a prestigious Research and Education Network (REN) grant for his work developing a new type of cell therapy to treat chronic hepatitis B virus infection.

There is no cure for hepatitis B virus, but with this grant, Scott is looking to identify, isolate and culture a novel type of cell, called a ‘memory NK cell’ (or mNK). Because mNK cells can specifically target HBV infected cells in the liver, there is hope that they can be used to cure the chronic infection.

This means that a future mNK cell therapy could take a person’s blood, isolate the mNK cells, expand and invigorate them in the lab, then reinfuse them into the patient. This procedure is commonly employed to make T cell therapies, but NK cells have been largely overlooked.

“This is a novel form of cell therapy that could help cure chronic hepatitis B infection by using mNK cells to target and kill HBV infected cells in the liver,” Scott said.

“A mNK based cell therapy would likely be used in combination with current antiviral treatments for HBV.

Similar cell therapies have been very successful in some blood cancers, and Scott told the Pulse that this research will be the first step towards phase one studies.

The research will lead to the optimisation of mNK cell culture protocols, particularly the development of protocols that can be undertaken in “clean rooms” in the hospital that are designed for similar cell therapies, and that follow strict guidelines.

“It’s great to progress with in vitro data, which is the norm for me as a basic scientist, but it’s a whole new level of excitement knowing that there is a potential for future real world clinical benefit,” Scott said.

Scott is a Senior Hospital Scientist in charge of the PC2 laboratory facility at the Blacktown Clinical School and also works at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, where he partakes in a variety of studies alongside clinicians at WMH and BMDH relating to chronic illnesses of the GI tract and liver.