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Possible cancer killing cell discovered by Cardiff scientists

A new type of immune cell has been discovered that appears to make a beeline for most cancers.

It’s difficult to report on breakthroughs in cancer research because it seems that every time a discovery hits the headlines it amounts to nothing. So I want to preface this by saying that, no, a cure for cancer has not been found. It remains one of the most elusive and incurable phenomenons in medical science.

Having said that, it does seem that with every small victory we come closer to understanding this behemoth of afflictions. And a group of researchers from Cardiff University have added another notch on this belt through the discovery of an immune cell that seems to have an eradicating effect on pretty much all types of deviant cancer cells.

The unsuspecting scientists were looking for immune cells that could fight bacteria in blood in from a bank in Wales when they found an entirely new type of T-cell. The cell in question carries a never-before-seen receptor which acts like a grappling hook, latching on to most healthy human cancers whilst ignoring healthy cells. Which, you know, is ideal for a cancer cure.

In lab studies that have since been carried out, immune cells equipped with the new receptor were shown to kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancers. This is an impressive oeuvre and raises the previously elusive prospect of a universal therapy.

Therapies which engineer immune cells to fight specific types of cancer already exist (called CAR-T therapy), but this is currently only useful for some forms of leukaemia, and doesn’t work for solid tumours, which account for most cancers. Previously it was thought that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cancer treatment was outside the realm of possibility, making this cell something of a unicorn.

Professor Andrew Sewell, lead author on the study and an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University, said it was ‘highly unusual’ to find a cell that had broad cancer-fighting therapies. ‘This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed’ he told The Telegraph here.

Traditional CAR-T therapy works by locking onto ‘HLA’ molecules in the body, but the predisposition to these molecules varies wildly person to person – some of us have loads, some of us very few, making the treatment uncertain. In contrast, the new T-cell attaches to a molecule on cancer cells called MR1 – something that is prevalent in all of us. So, not only would the treatment work across the cancer spectrum, but it can be shared between people from all ilks. This further raises the possibility that banks of the special cell could be used for instant, even over-the-counter, treatment.

Currently the therapy is in its animal testing phase, but scientists are reporting promising results from their trials. Our radar is primed and ready to receive any and all updates from Cardiff regarding this potentially revolutionary new find.

 

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