Scientists believe that they have found part of the human immune system that can be used to treat all types of cancer.
It is believed that a team of researchers at Cardiff University found a method for destroying lung, breast, prostate, and other types of cancer in lab tests.
Nature Immunology published the findings which still haven’t been tested in humans. However, researchers believe this is exciting news for the treatment of cancer, even though the work is still at an early stage. They say the findings have great potential.
What’s the Discovery?
The function of the immune system is to defend us from infections. However, it also attacks cancer cells. Researchers were trying to find new unconventional ways the immune system works to fight against tumors naturally.
They discovered a T-cell inside our blood – an immune cell that detects a threat in our body that needs to be attacked and removed.
Turns out, the T-cell could attack different types of cancer.
Professor Andrew Sewell sees a chance here to treat every patient. Here’s what he said for BBC:
Previously nobody believed this could be possible. It raises the prospect of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cancer treatment, a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population.
How T-Cell Works
Thanks to the receptors located at their surface, T-cells can see at a chemical level. Researchers at the Cardiff University found a T-cell with a receptor that can detect and destroy different cancerous cells in the lab, such as skin, lung, breast, colon, bone, blood, ovarian, prostate, cervical, and kidney cancer cells.
What’s most important, the T-cell didn’t touch the healthy cells.
The exact way this cell and its receptor work is still unclear. The receptor of the T-cell interacts with MR1 – a molecule found on the surface of every human cell.
Namely, this molecule flags the improper metabolism inside cancer cells to the immune system.
Garry Dolton, one of the researchers, told the BBC:
We are the first to describe a T-cell that finds MR1 in cancer cells – that hasn’t been done before, this is the first of its kind.
Why Is This Important?
Cancer therapies involving T-cells already exist. One of the most incredible advances in cancer treatment has been the development of cancer immunotherapy.
CAR-T is the most famous example. It’s a living drug produced by genetically engineering T-cells of one patient to detect and kill cancer.
This drug can have incredible results, improving the condition of cancer patients significantly. A terminally ill patient can go into complete remission.
Still, the method is extremely specific and works in certain types of cancer where a clear target is present to train T-cells to detect. Also, the approach has barely any success in solid cancers – cancers that form tumors rather than leukemia.
According to the team of researchers at Cardiff University, the T-cell receptor they discovered may lead to a universal treatment for cancer.
How Would This Work in Practice?
Researchers explain that after taking a blood sample from a patient, their T-cells would have to be extracted and genetically modified in order to be reprogramed so they can find the receptor that’s able to detect the cancer cells.
Once the cells are upgraded in this way, they will be multiplied in a large number in the lab and put back into the same patient. CAR-T therapies use the same process.
For now, the research has been tested only on cells in the lab and in animals, so more safety checks are needed before they can test it on humans.
What’s The Opinion of Experts?
According to Gennaro De Libero and Lucia Mori from the Swiss University of Basel, the research has a huge potential, although it’s too early to say it could work on all types of cancer.
Here’s what they said:
We are very excited about the immunological functions of this new T-cell population and the potential use of their TCRs in tumour cell therapy.
Here’s the opinion of the professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, Daniel Davis:
At the moment, this is very basic research and not close to actual medicines for patients. There is no question that it’s a very exciting discovery, both for advancing our basic knowledge about the immune system and for the possibility of future new medicines.
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