A team of international scientists has discovered a new type of immune cell that has the ability to target and kill most cancer cells. Previous studies have concluded that the findings are unlikely, and although they have not yet been tested in human subjects, they offer potential to radically change immunotherapy as a possible generic cancer treatment.
The development of CAR-T immunotherapy is one of the most ground-breaking developments in cancer treatment. This highly personalized treatment involves harvesting the patient’s immune T-cells and then reprogramming them to target specific proteins found in the patient’s cancer cells.
In 2017, the FDA approved the first such treatment for young patients with rare blood and bone marrow cancer. However, the treatment is expensive, time-consuming and not without the risk of serious side effects.
The biggest limitation faced by researchers studying CAR-T therapy is that there is no universal T-cell receptor (TCR) that can target different types of cancer in all patients. In fact, it is generally believed that this generic TCR for cancer does not exist at all.
A new study published in the prestigious journal Nature Immunology suggests that a generic Type of TCR does exist and has been discovered. The study describes the discovery of an immune T-cell that exhibits a new type of receptor that appears to have the ability to target and kill multiple types of human cancer cells without leaving healthy cells behind.
Newly discovered T-cells are thought to be able to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells by nesting on surface molecules called MR1. Although the molecule is present in almost all cells of the human body, the researchers suspect that it is presented differently in cancer cells, allowing a single TCR to effectively target multiple tumors.
Andrew Sewell, lead author of the new study, said: “Current TCR-based therapies can only be used in a small number of patients with a small number of cancers. Targeting cancer by limiting MR1’s T-cells is an exciting new area – it proposes a ‘universal’ cancer treatment; a T-cell that destroys many different types of cancer throughout the population. No one ever believed it was possible before. “
The study only shows that new T-cells are effective in cell laboratory testing and initial animal studies and are still in the early stages of the study. However, early animal testing results are encouraging. Sewell believes that if further safety trials are successful, human trials will begin soon. “We have a lot of hurdles to overcome, but if this test is successful, then I hope this new treatment will be available to patients within a few years,” Sewell said.
Cancer experts unrelated to the new study are cautiously optimistic, noting that the breakthrough could lead to a novel universal treatment. Astero Klampatsa of the Institute of Cancer Research in London says more needs to be done, but the new study is promising. “New discoveries are still in their early stages, but this is an exciting step in the right direction, taking us one step closer to immunotherapy based on ‘ready-made’ cells,” Klampatsa said. “
Awen Gallimore, a researcher at Cardiff University who did not conduct the special study, agrees the findings could be truly transformative, paving the way for a widespread form of cancer immunotherapy that was previously considered impossible.
“If this innovative new discovery holds, it will lay the foundation for ‘universal’ T-cell drugs, reducing the huge costs associated with the identification, production and manufacture of personalized T-cells,” Gallimore said. This is really exciting and could be a big step forward in the availability of cancer immunotherapy. “
The new study is published in the journal Nature Immunotherapy.