Researchers at Cardiff University stumbled upon an immune cell that could help humankind become completely immune to certain cancers.
You know that feeling when you put on your coat for the first time in a whole year and find a $10 bill in your pocket? Well, that's probably what these scientists felt (times a hundred) when they accidentally discovered an immune cell that can kill most cancers. The discovery, made by a team of British scientists at Cardiff University, has been heralded as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment, The Telegraph reports. Now, the scientists suggest that further research could lead to a way to help humankind become completely immune to most kinds of cancer. Talk about revolutionary.
The researchers made the discovery when analyzing blood samples from a blood bank in Wales. Though they were only looking for immune cells that could fight bacteria, they found an entirely new type of T-cell instead. This T-cell carries a feature that has never been seen before: a "grappling hook," which latches on to most human cancers while ignoring healthy cells. After conducting extensive tests in a laboratory, this "grappling hook" was shown to kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney, and cervical cancer. That's a long laundry list of cancers, huh?
Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumour cells, the 2018 Medicine Laureates established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy. #NobelPrize pic.twitter.com/FTRazcLEmD— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) January 26, 2019
Professor Andrew Sewell, the lead author of the study as well as an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, explained in an interview that it was "highly unusual" to find an immune cell with such broad cancer-fighting capabilities. "This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed," he told The Telegraph. "Our finding 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. Previously nobody believed this could be possible." This raises one question in particular: does the existence of this immune cell mean there's someone walking around in Wales who is immune to cancer? According to Professor Sewell, it's possible. He said, "Possibly. This immune cell could be quite rare, or it could be that lots of people have this receptor but for some reason, it is not activated. We just don't know yet." Now, he suggests a universal form of therapy could perhaps be in the pipeline.
This illustration shows the steps for creating CAR T-cell therapy, a type of treatment in which a patient's T cells (a type of immune cell) are changed in the lab so that they will attack cancer cells. pic.twitter.com/mSWVoNR7lV— National Cancer Institute (@theNCI) March 4, 2019
At present, therapies that use CAR-T and TCR-T already exist, however, they are not accessible to all patients with cancer. For instance, while CAR-T therapy has been proven rather effective in the case of certain forms of leukaemia, it does not work for solid tumours, which are the vast majority of cancers. Similarly, TCR-T therapies have work in the past for some other cancers but they need to lock onto molecules called HLA. This molecule can vary vastly in the general population. Therefore, the discovery of this immune cell is a monumental milestone. According to Professor Oliver Ottmann, Cardiff University’s Head of Haematology, whose department delivers CAR-T therapy, this could be revolutionary. He affirmed, "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." While this is exciting news, there is more research to be done. Fingers crossed, folks!