A newly-discovered cell in everyone's immune system could be the key to destroying several types of deadly cancers, and could even one day be used to create a "one size fits all" treatment, scientists say.
According to a new study published in Nature Immunology this month, a team of British scientists discovered a new type of "T-cells" that works to detect cancerous cells and differentiate them from healthy cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cell in the immune system that helps to fight off infections and cancers. The team discovered a new type of T-cell that can hone in on lung, skin, colon, leukemia, colon, breast, prostate, bone, kidney, cervical, and ovarian cancers.
The team found the receptors on the T-cells were able to detect the wide range of cancers using a molecule called MR1, which is present on all human cells.
"We are the first to describe a T-cell that finds MR1 in cancer cells—that hasn't been done before, this is the first of its kind," study co-author Garry Dolton told BBC News.
The process by which the T-cell detects the cancer cells is still not understood, but scientists believe the MR1 molecule may be signaling the cell's metabolism has been compromised to the T-cell receptors.
Ideally, specific treatment options could be developed using this new technique. A doctor would take a blood sample from a cancer patient and extract the T-cells in the sample. The T-cells would then be genetically modified so they would make the MR1 molecule. The cells could then be grown in a large quantity and injected back into the patient.
"This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed. 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," Lead author of the study, professor Andrew Sewell of the Division of Infection and Immunity at Cardiff University, U.K., told The Telegraph. "Previously nobody believed this could be possible."
The finding is an important step forward in the field known as immunotherapy, but the research has so far only concentrated on animals and on cells in the laboratory. More research is needed before any human trials could begin.
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