Accidental Discovery May Lead To A One-Size-Fits-All Cancer Treatment

Some of the greatest inventions of all time were created by accident.

The inventor of the microwave oven was researching magnetrons when the candy bar in his pocket melted. This strange phenomenon inspired him to create a new way to cook food.

Dr. Alexander Fleming left out Staphylococcus aureus cultures in his lab for two weeks and realized their growths were prevented by penicillin. This led to one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of all time.

Christopher Columbus famously accidentally discovered America after miscalculating the distance between Europe and Asia. (We use the term “discovered” lightly because there were already people living in America.)

Now researchers out of Cardiff University may have accidentally discovered an immune cell that could lead to a one-size-fits-all cancer cure.

The scientists were looking for “unconventional” ways that the immune system naturally kills tumors when they came across a T-cell inside human blood that no one had found before.

This immune cell has a special talent for seeking out cancerous threats and then eliminating them in the body.

“We were looking for something else! All the best scientific discoveries are made by mistake,” Andrew Sewell of the Division of Infection and Immunity at Cardiff University, told Newsweek.

This T-cell is different because it can detect and kill a wide range of cancers, including lung, skin, leukemia, colon, breast, prostate, bone, kidney, cervical, and ovarian cancers. It also can distinguish between cancerous and healthy cells.

The T-cell receptor interacts with a molecule called MR1 which is on the surface of every cell in the human body. The researchers believe the MR1 in cancerous cells can signal its distress to the T-cell which then comes in for the attack.

“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,” Sewell told The Telegraph. “Previously, nobody believed this could be possible.”

Sewell and his team’s findings were published in the journal
Nature Immunology.

So how would it work in practice?

A doctor would draw blood from the cancer patient and their T-cells would be extracted and genetically modified to make the cancer-finding receptor. The cells would then be reproduced in a laboratory and injected back into the patient to kill cancer.

The researchers have tested the procedure on mice and said
that it showed encouraging cancer-clearing abilities.

“At the moment, this is very basic research and not close to actual medicines for patients,” Daniel Davis, a professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, said according to the BBC.

“There is no question that it’s a very exciting discovery, both for advancing our basic knowledge about the immune system and for the possibility of future new medicines,” he continued.

“If this transformative new finding holds up, it will lay the foundation for a universal T-cell medicine, mitigating against the tremendous costs associated with the identification, generation and manufacture of personalized T-cells,” Professor Awen Gallimore from the Wales Cancer Research Centre, said according to The Mirror.

“This is truly exciting and potentially a great step
forward for the accessibility of cancer immunotherapy,” he continued.

The researchers are now experimenting to identify the precise molecular mechanism that allows the T-cell to distinguish between a cancerous and a healthy cell. They plan to test the new therapy in human patients by the end of 2020.

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images, Technology Networks, Flickr.

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