A team of researchers at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom have discovered a new type of immune cell with receptors that kill almost all forms of cancer, giving hope to a possible form of universal cancer treatment in the future.
On Monday, the scientists’ findings were published in the peer-reviewed Nature Immunology. They discovered a T-cell equipped with a new form of T-cell receptor, also known as TCR, that can identify and kill most human cancers whilst ignoring healthy cells.
While chemotherapy and radiation have been used to treat cancers for years, T-cell therapy is the latest innovation in cancer treatment. Immune cells are taken from the patient, modified to target specific proteins, and placed back into the patient’s blood. Currently, the most widely-used form of this therapy is known as CAR-T. However, according to the Cardiff researchers, this treatment can “only target certain cancers and has not been successful for solid tumors.”
But, the discovery of this new TCR has given researchers hope for a “one-size-fits-all” cancer treatment. According to their findings, the receptor can “distinguish between healthy cells and cancerous ones, killing only the latter.” The most remarkable difference is it’s detected through a molecule that’s universal in the human body.
The reason that CAR-T and other forms of T-cell therapy for cancer treatment have not been widely adopted is because of cell-surface molecules called human leukocyte antigen or HLA.
HLA vary vastly between individuals, making it difficult for treatment to be a “one-size-fits-all.” However, this newly discovered TCR identifies whether cells are healthy or cancerous through a single HLA-like molecule called “MR1.”
“Unlike HLA, MR1 does not vary in the human population,” the scientists wrote in a statement. This led to the astonishing breakthrough that could potentially be the key to finding a universal cancer treatment.
“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,” said Cardiff University’s Head of Haematology Oliver Ottmann in a statement.
While the discovery is a significant development in the cure and fight against cancer, it must undergo extensive research and trial before being an adopted therapy. Cardiff University plans to conduct additional testing and hopes to have the treatment readily available within the next couple of years.