Isolation of Functional SARS-CoV-2 Antigen-Specific T-Cells with Specific Viral Cytotoxic Activity for Adoptive Therapy of COVID-19

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In order to demonstrate the feasibility of preparing clinical-grade SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells from convalescent donors and the ability of these cells to neutralize the virus in vitro, we used blood collected from two COVID-19 convalescent donors (before and after vaccination) that was stimulated with specific SARS-CoV-2 peptides followed by automated T-cell isolation using the CliniMacs Prodigy medical device. To determine cytotoxic activity, HEK 293T cells were transfected to express the SARS-CoV-2 M protein, mimicking SARS-CoV-2 infection. We were able to quickly and efficiently isolate SARS-CoV-2-specific T lymphocytes from both donors before and after they received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Althoughbefore vaccination, the final product contained up to 7.42% and 30.19% of IFN-γ+ CD3+ T-cells from donor 1 and donor 2, respectively, we observed an enrichment of the IFN-γ+ CD3+ T-cells after vaccination, reaching 70.47% and 42.59%, respectively. At pre-vaccination, the isolated SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells exhibited cytotoxic activity that was significantly higher than that of unstimulated controls (donor 2: 15.41%, p-value 3.27 × 10−3). The cytotoxic activity of the isolated SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells also significantly increased after vaccination (donor 1: 32.71%, p-value 1.44 × 10−5; donor 2: 33.38%, p-value 3.13 × 10−6). In conclusion, we demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells can quickly and efficiently be stimulated from the blood of convalescent donors using SARS-CoV-2-specific peptides followed by automated isolation. Vaccinated convalescent donors have a higher percentage of SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells and may be more suitable as donors. Although further studies are needed to assess the clinical utility of the functional isolated SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells in patients, previous studies using the same stimulation and isolation methods applied to other pathologies support this idea.
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