British scientists have discovered, by accident, a new type of immune cell that kills most cancers.
While analyzing blood from a Wales bank to determine immune cells that could fight bacteria, Cardiff University researchers discovered a new type of T-cell that caries a receptor that latches onto human cancers but ignores healthy cells, reports The Telegraph.
“This was a serendipitous finding,” Professor Andrew Sewell, the study’s lead author and an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, commented. “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.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature Immunology.
The receptor was shown in laboratory studies to kill several cancers, including lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer.
Sewell said that either the immune cell could be “quite rare,” or it could be that many people have the receptor but “for some reason, it is not activated.”
Immune cells are now engineered that fight some forms of leukemia, but they do not work for the solid tumors that present with most cancers.
The new cell, however, attaches to a molecule on cancer cells called MR1, which doesn’t vary in humans, meaning that it would work for most cancers and that it could be shared between people. This means banks of the special cells may be able to be created for “off-the-shelf” treatments, researchers said.
Sewell said progress could move “quite fast,” as the “right people” are interested in developing the therapy. Human trials on terminally ill patients could begin as early as November if the treatment passes more laboratory safety testing.