A new discovery by British scientists could be a “game-changer” in cancer treatment as it uses a person’s own immune system to kill the affected cells and could potentially end the use of toxic chemotherapy.
The researchers at University College London (UCL) say they believe they have found a way to use a human being’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.
According to their report in ‘Science’ journal, they have developed a way of finding unique markings within a tumour allowing the body to target and fight the disease.
“The logic of the treatment is that the (treatment) response should be much more specific than anything tried so far.
It is a game changer for cancer,” said Sergio Quezada, one of the lead researchers.
The discovery could mean that instead of being given toxic chemotherapy, patients could in future be given vaccines made from proteins in their own tumours that activate the immune system to wage war on the cancer.
As only the tumour cells have the particular biological signature, healthy tissue will not be attacked by the immune response.
“This is exciting. Now we can prioritise and target tumour antigens that are present in every cell — the Achilles heel of these highly complex cancers,” Professor Charles Swanton, from the UCL Cancer Institute, said.
“This is really fascinating and takes personalised medicine to its absolute limit, where each patient would have a unique, bespoke treatment,” he said.
There are two approaches being suggested for targeting the trunk mutations. The first is to develop cancer vaccines for each patient that train the immune system to spot them.
The second is to “fish” for immune cells that already target those mutations and swell their numbers in the lab, and then put them back into the body.
These bespoke treatments for patients with advanced cancer could enter the human trials stage within two years.
Such an approach, which involves mapping the DNA in a patient’s tumour sample, would help to overcome the ability of cancers to resist therapies by altering their genetic make-up.
The work is at an early stage but scientists hope to see rapid progress and are optimistic about similar targets for all types of cancers being found.