British scientists may have discovered a cure for cancer — by accident.
As The Telegraph reports, Researchers at Cardiff University were analyzing blood from a bank in Wales, looking for immune cells that could fight bacteria, when they found an entirely new type of T-cell. That new immune cell carries a never-before-seen receptor that acts like a grappling hook, latching on to most human cancers, while ignoring healthy cells.”
What makes this new discovery so exciting is that prior therapies, referred to as CAR-T and TCR-T therapies, which use immune cells to attach to HLA molecules on cancer cells’ surface, fight cancer but are incapable of fighting solid tumors. As The Telegraph points out, HLA molecules vary in people, but the new therapy attaches to a molecule called MR1, which does not vary in humans, which gives it the chance of fighting most cancers and additionally means people could share the treatment, allowing banks of the cells to be stored and thus be offered quickly to people suffering from the disease.
Immune cells from the new treatment have killed lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells. The study stated:
Human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-independent, T cell-mediated targeting of cancer cells would allow immune destruction of malignancies in all individuals. Here, we use genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screening to establish that a T cell receptor recognized and killed most human cancer types via the monomorphic MHC class-I related protein, MR1 while remaining inert to noncancerous cells … These findings offer opportunities for HLA-independent, pan-cancer, pan-population immunotherapies.
The study concluded, “In summary, we describe a TCR that exhibits pan-cancer recognition via the variant MR1 molecule, and, by equipping patients with melanoma T cells that lacked detectable cancer reactivity with the MC.7 G5 TCR, we rendered the T-cells capable of killing autologous melanoma.”
Professor Andrew Sewell, the lead author on the study, enthused to the Telegraph, “This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed. Our finding raises the prospect of ‘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. Previously nobody believed this could be possible.”
Astonishingly, T-cells of skin cancer patients altered by the treatment were apparently capable of killing the patient’s cancer cells and other patients’ cancer cells as well. The team of researchers posited that trials on terminally ill patients could conceivably start in November.
Professor Oliver Ottmann, Cardiff University’s Head of Haematology, stated: “This new type of T-cell therapy has enormous potential to overcome current limitations of CAR-T, which has been struggling to identify suitable and safe targets for more than a few cancer types.”
Professor Awen Gallimore of Cardiff University’s division of infection and immunity and cancer immunology lead for the Wales Research Centre, added, “If this transformative new finding holds up, it will lay the foundation for a ‘universal’ T-cell medicine, mitigating against the tremendous costs associated with the identification, generation, and manufacture of personalized T-cells. This is truly exciting and potentially a great step forward for the accessibility of cancer immunotherapy.”
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