Cell-based therapies could be boosted by new antioxidant

20 September 2017

Cell therapies being developed to treat a range of conditions could be improved by a chemical compound that aids their survival, new CRM research suggests.

CRM group leader Dr Tilo Kunath and his team found that the man-made molecule – a type of antioxidant – helps to shield healthy cells from damage such as would be caused when they are transplanted into a patient during cell therapy. Such procedures are already used to treat people with blood disorders as well as to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns.

The newly tested compound is 10 times more effective at protecting cells from damage than the most powerful antioxidant found in nature, the study found. 

As many as 90 per cent of cells can be damaged or killed during the transplantation process. This can affect the likelihood of the treatment’s success. Pre-treating cells before they are transplanted into patients could help to improve success rates of cell-based therapies. The research team are seeking to develop such approaches to treat conditions including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

In the study, cells were exposed to a toxic substance, mimicking the shock that cells experience when transplanted. They then tested whether treating cells with antioxidants could protect them from damage. The new synthetic compound – called Proxison – rescued as many as 90 per cent of cells from death. More than 10 times the concentration of the most powerful natural antioxidant tested was needed to achieve the same result.

Studies with zebrafish also found the man-made super-antioxidant can protect cells from death in a living animal. Dr Kunath interested in whether antioxidants can help boost the chances that a range of cell therapies will work. Many more patients may be able to benefit from these treatments if cell survival could be significantly improved.

Lead researcher Dr Tilo Kunath, of the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said:

We found Proxison to be a potent antioxidant that is very effective at protecting cells from oxidative stress and free radical damage.

Proxison was developed by the Aberdeen-based biotechnology company Antoxis, which provided funding for the study. The new antioxidant was designed based on a natural compound found in fruit and vegetables. The team made small modifications to the chemical structure to generate a super-antioxidant that they hope to develop into a potential new drug.

Professor Andy Porter, Chair of Antoxis Ltd, said:

Scientists from both academic and commercial spheres are at the forefront of developing new cell based therapies for a range of debilitating diseases.  However, there remain a number of hurdles that we need to overcome before we can fully exploit the potential of this exciting approach in patients.

This excellent work in Edinburgh provides a significant step forward in removing one of these hurdles with the potential to increase the efficacy of transplanted cells in patients and allow more patients to be treated from precious resources.

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.  Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 11857 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-12072-5



Name                                        Jen Middleton

Organisation                         University of Edinburgh Press Office

Telephone                              0131 650 6514 or 07795 640662;

Email                                       Jen.Middleton@ed.ac.uk