Cancer is a devastating disease that has afflicted our society for decades. If you’ve had any experience with this disease, you know how it drains the life of the sufferers and their families. While there are several treatment procedures like chemotherapy and surgery, cancer has no known universal cure (1).
However, according to one paper published by the Journal of Nature Immunology (1), British scientists have accidentally discovered immune cells in the body that might be able to kill most cancer cells. This finding could be the much-awaited cancer treatment breakthrough that we need. The researchers from Cardiff University were testing blood samples in Wales for anti-bacteria white cells when they made this discovery.
Discovery of New T-cells
The new type of t-cells they found had a special receptor that behaved like a hook on the surface of most cancer cells without causing any damage to the healthy cells. Further lab testing revealed that this new t-cell and its receptor can fight off numerous forms of cancers including lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney, and cervical cancer.
A Universal Therapy for Cancer?
Professor Andrew Sewell, who is part of the research team and an expert in the field of T-cells says that their research result is interesting; as it might be the ultimate cure for cancer. He explained further that no one in the medical community knew about the existence of this immune cell and its receptor. In fact, scientists always thought such therapy for cancer would be impossible.
When the professor was asked if this means that people in Wales are immune to cancer, he said the evidence is not clear yet. It might be that this type of t-cell is scarce or maybe a lot of people have them but for some unknown reason, it is not activated (2).
While there are other types of immunotherapies available to cancer patients, this new t-cell might be the first non-specific cure. Other forms of cellular therapies like CAR-T and TCR-T can only be used to treat certain types of cancers. Plus, the old procedures are not effective for treating solid tumors and some people don’t respond to it. Immunotherapy usually involves taking a patients’ white blood cells, engineering and reproducing them in the lab, then injecting the cells back into the bloodstream.
CAR-T is mostly used for leukemia therapy but not other types of cancer. TCR-T on the other hand, is only effective for certain types of cancer within specific populations. For immunotherapy to work, the cells need an HLA molecule to attach itself, but this molecule differs from person to person.
The newly discovered t-cell therapy uses a common molecule that every human has, and it’s called MR1. Meaning any cancer patients can receive the treatment and share the new cells with others. Special immune cells could even be manufactured and stored in banks for future use.
Further testing of this t-cell therapy in mice injected with human cancer cells have also shown encouraging results. Moreover, the paper points out that the receptor sensitive enhanced t-cells of some patients have been used to kill cancer cells of others in the lab.
One of the researchers said that human trials on terminally ill patients may begin as soon as November if the results continue to prove positive.
A Cheaper Alternative
Professor Oliver Ottmann, the head of the Hematology Department at the University says that this new t-cell therapy is revolutionary because of the current limitations of CAR-T. Also, professor Gallimore from the university’s Division of Infection and Immunity and a leader in the Wales Cancer Research Centre, says the t-cell therapy will be much cheaper than other available types of immunotherapy.
University of Manchester’s Daniel Davis commented that this therapy will improve patient’s access to cellular treatment and help to reduce the dangerous side effects associated with immunotherapy. He also said that while the results are convincing, there is a need to understand the mechanisms t-cells uses to identify and destroy cancer cells.
This is good news for anyone going through cancer treatment. Hopefully, the new t-cell therapy will become available to everyone and we’ll have a cancer-free future.