Researchers have found a new type of cell in the immune system that could detect and kill many types of cancer, hoping that it could be used to create a “one size fits all” cancer treatment.
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature Immunology, showed that a new type of T-cells could help in detecting a variety of cancer cells.
T-cells are a type of white blood cells (WBCs) in the immune system. These cells help to fight off infections and cancers.
The researchers said these new T-cells and their special receptors could detect and kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, prostate, bone, kidney, cervical, and ovarian cancers.
The new cells can detect cancer through their interaction MR1, a molecule that is present on the surface of all human cells. MR1 could signal the compromised metabolism of the cell to the T-cell receptors.
Co-author of the study Garry Dolton from Cardiff University, UK, told BBC News, “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.”
Lead study author Prof. Andrew Sewell from Cardiff University told Newsweek, “We were looking for something else! All the best scientific discoveries are made by mistake.”
Prof. Sewell told The Telegraph, “This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed. 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.”
He added, “The immune cell may be quite rare, or it could be that lots of people have this receptor but for some reason, it is not activated. We just don’t know yet.”
The researchers explained the findings are an important step forward for what could be immunotherapy to treat cancers.
Prof. Daniel Davis from the University of Manchester said, “In general, we are in the midst of a medical revolution harnessing the power of the immune system to tackle cancer. But not everyone responds to the current therapies and there can be harmful side-effects.”
He said the new research’s finding is an “exciting discovery,” but he added, “We still need to understand exactly how it recognizes and kills cancer cells, while not responding to normal healthy cells. At the moment, this is very basic research and not close to actual medicines for patients.”
“But in the long term, the hope is that this type of immune cell could be the basis of new immune therapies, either by infusing these cells directly into patients or by unleashing their capacity to act,” Prof Davis continued. “There is no question that is a very exciting discovery, both for advancing our basic knowledge about the immune system and for the possibility of future new medicines,” said Davis.”