A Cardiff University team has discovered a new part of our immune systems—and they say that what they’ve found has tremendous implications for treating cancers of all kinds.
In lab tests, the University team discovered a method of killing prostate, breast, lung and other cancers. Their findings are published in Nature Immunology.
The scientists were looking for previously undiscovered ways the immune system naturally attacks tumors when they found a T-cell inside our blood. A T-cell, of which there are many different kinds, controls the human body’s immune response by providing a variety of immune-related functions.
The Cardiff team discovered a T-cell and its receptor that could find and kill a wide range of cancerous cells in the lab including lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells. The T-cell left normal tissues untouched.
T-cell cancer therapies already exist, the most famous example being CAR-T, which is basically a living drug made by genetically engineering a patient’s T-cells to look for and destroy cancer.
“There’s a chance here to treat every patient,” researcher Prof Andrew Sewell told the 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.”
“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,” research fellow Garry Dolton told the BBC.
How would this T-cell specifically be used to treat cancer? First, a blood sample would be taken from a cancer patient. Then, their T-cells would be extracted and genetically modified to make the cancer-finding receptor. Then, these modified cells would be grown in the laboratory and put back into the patient.
The research is in its early stages and has been only tested in animals and on cells in the lab. But scientists are hopeful.
“We are very excited about the immunological functions of this new T-cell population and the potential use of their TCRs in tumor cell therapy,” said Lucia Mori and Gennaro De Libero from the University of Basel in Switzerland.
Daniel Davis, a professor of immunology at the University of Manchester agreed.
“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.”