A NEWLY discovered type of killer immune cell has raised the prospect of a “universal” cancer therapy, scientists say.
Researchers at Cardiff University suggest the new T-cell offers hope of a “one-size-fits-all” cancer therapy.
The findings have not been tested in patients, but the researchers believe they have “enormous potential”.
T-cell cancer therapies already exist and the development of cancer immunotherapy has been one of the most exciting advances in the field.
The most widely used is known as CAR-T and is personalised to each patient.
However, it only targets a limited number of cancers and has not been successful for solid tumours, which make up the majority of cancers.
But scientists have now discovered T-cells equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) which recognises and kills most human cancer types, while ignoring healthy cells.
Professor Andrew Sewell, lead author on the study from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said it was “highly unusual” to find a TCR with such broad cancer specificity and this raised the prospect of “universal” cancer therapy.
He added: “We hope this new TCR may provide us with a different route to target and destroy a wide range of cancers in all individuals.
“Current TCR-based therapies can only be used in a minority of patients with a minority of cancers.
“This 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.”
T-cells have “receptors” on their surface that allow them to “see” at a chemical level.
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.
Crucially, it left normal tissues untouched.
This particular T-cell receptor interacts with a molecule called MR1, which is on the surface of every cell in the human body.
It is thought MR1 is flagging the distorted metabolism going on inside a cancerous cell to the immune system.
However, the research has been tested only in animals and on cells in the laboratory, and more safety checks would be needed before human trials could start.
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They hope to trial the new approach in patients towards the end of the year.
Professor Awen Gallimore, of the University’s division of infection and immunity, and cancer immunology lead for the Wales Cancer Research Centre, said: “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 personalised T-cells.
“This is truly exciting and potentially a great step forward for the accessibility of cancer immunotherapy.”