The BBC is reporting that researchers at the University of Cardiff have achieved something of a breakthrough in the treatment of most kinds of cancer. If it pans out, the deadly disease could become a lot less deadly and a lot more manageable. However, a lot of research needs to be done before the treatment shows up in a clinical setting.
Traditionally, three ways exist for treating cancers, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Each of these methods has drawbacks. Surgery will often not get all of the cancer, which will continue to ravage the body. Chemo and radiation tend to damage the healthy tissue that surrounds the tumor, causing the patient to get sick, lose their hair, and suffer nausea.
The latest, cutting edge cancer treatment is called immunotherapy. The idea is to train the body’s immune cells to attack cancer cells using a living drug called Car-T. The drawback of this method is that it is highly specific, expensive, and is only effective against certain kinds of cancer such as leukemia.
Now the researchers at the University of Cardiff have found a type of immune cell that can be trained to kill a wide variety of cancers. If the method proves to be effective in patients, it will be a game-changer for the treatment of cancer. What was once a deadly disease that, at best, needs months of agonizing treatment to send into remission could be vanquished with a relatively simple therapy. The BBC explains how a type of immune cell called a T-cell could become a smart bullet that could make death from many cancers rare.
“Our immune system is our body’s natural defense against infection, but it also attacks cancerous cells. The scientists were looking for “unconventional” and previously undiscovered ways the immune system naturally attacks tumors. What they found was a T-cell inside people’s blood. This is an immune cell that can scan the body to assess whether there is a threat that needs to be eliminated. The difference is this one could attack a wide range of cancers.”
T-cells have a kind of receptor that allows them to detect other cells chemically, seeking out a molecule called MR1 that is on the surface of every cell. This allows them to attack infections, thus curing the human body of a wide variety of diseases. The Cardiff researchers have found a particular kind of T-cell that can locate the chemical signature of a host of cancers, allowing them to seek them out and eradicate them.
“The idea is that a blood sample would be taken from a cancer patient. Their T-cells would be extracted and then genetically modified so they were reprogrammed to make the cancer-finding receptor. The upgraded cells would be grown in vast quantities in the laboratory and then put back into the patient. It is the same process used to make CAR-T therapies.”
The researchers caution that the new therapy has only been tested in the lab and on certain animals. The tests, which killed cancers including lung, melanoma, leukemia, colon, breast, prostate, bone and ovarian have proven to be promising. However, years of human trials reside ahead before the treatment can be proven safe and effective for human patients. Science Alert notes:
“To that end, the next step for the team – in addition to organizing future clinical trials – will be learning more about the mechanisms that enable MR1 to identify cancer cells at a molecular level.”
Typically, human trials take anywhere from five to ten years to discover whether or not a type of therapy being researched is both safe and effective. The type of treatment that has this much potential could be fast-tracked if preliminary results in human trials prove to be promising.
Immunotherapy has some significant advantages over more conventional cancer treatments. It does not touch healthy tissue, so fewer side effects present themselves. Also, modified T-cells can hunt down and destroy all of the cancer cells in the human body. That characteristic of the therapy makes it less likely that cancer will return to someone who has had the original disease sent into remission.