When the words “groundbreaking” and “cancer treatment” are put together in a news headline, we automatically become skeptical; it’s almost as if we’ve trained ourselves to consider any advancement in the field as clickbait articles.
However, scientists at Cancer Research UK and the University College London claim to have found the Achilles’ heel of cancer, which could lead to more efficient treatments even for hopeless, terminal cases.
UCL researchers discovered that our immune system could trace all cancer cells spreading throughout the body because they carry a ‘flag.’ No matter how much these cancerous cells mutate, the organism can recognize them.
Current treatments often fail to completely destroy the cancer cells because they evolve quickly, cunningly altering their makeup to evade drugs. According to the new research, even when they mutate, cancer cells still carry signature molecules called antigens.
Antigens are toxins which the immune system can spot, but the immune cells that have the power to battle those antigens are in too small numbers in the body to be effective.
Scientists believe they can harvest these specialized immune cells, multiply them artificially, and send them back in to wipe out the cancerous cells, even when they have spread to multiple organs in the body.
Dr. Sergio Quezada, a scientist with the Cancer Research UK and head of the Immune Regulation and Cancer Immunotherapy Lab at UCL Cancer Institute, explained that the immune system and the cancer play a deadly ‘robbers vs. cops’ game.
The body’s immune cells try to stay on top of cancer, but because the tumors are so genetically diverse, the body cannot keep track of everything that’s going on.
Dr. Quezada explained that instead of letting the immune cells “aimlessly chase crimes” throughout the body, the newly discovered ‘flags’ could offer them the information they need to wipe out the problem for good.
In other words, doctors hope that in the future they will look at the genetic profile of a tumor and identify the ‘flags’ they carry. Then, after harvesting the respective immune cells and engineering billions more, they could transfer them back into the body to kill tumors.
Scientists also hope they could eventually create a vaccine that would increase the body’s own defenses against cancer. Because no two tumors are the same, the big discovery here is that a personalized treatment might be more successful than anything we’ve tried so far.
Image Source: Telegraph.co.uk