For the first time, scientists have shown that even if the immune cells of a patient are incapable of recognizing and attacking tumors, the immune cells of someone else may be able to.
In one new study, scientists have shown that by inserting certain components of healthy donor immune cells into the malfunctioning immune cells of a cancer patient, they can ‘teach’ these cells how to recognize cancer cells, as well as attack them.
Ton Schumacher from the Netherlands Cancer Institute, who is also one of the team, says:
“In a way, our findings reveal that the immune response in cancer patients can be strengthened. There is more on the cancer cells which makes them foreign that we can exploit. One way which we consider doing this is finding the right donor T cells to match these neo-antigens. The receptor which is used by these donor T-cells can then be used to genetically modify the patient’s T cells so these will be able to detect the cancer cells.”
It is now abundantly clear that existing treatments which try to kill off cancer cells by pumping the body full of harmful chemicals or incredibly hot bursts of laser light are woefully incompetent, so scientists around the world have been looking to something which is called immunotherapy.
Rather than using lasers or chemicals for attacking cancer cells, immunotherapy is based on the idea that certain treatments could bolster a patient’s immunity to fight cancer on its own.
Ideally, when a patient gets sick, their T cells, or white blood cells, are responsible for detecting foreign or abnormal cells. Once when they have locked onto their target, they bind with them, as well as signal to the rest of the immunity which they need to be attacked.
When it is about cancer, the T cells can fail for two principal reasons: either certain ‘barrier’ are in place that opposes with their ability to target, as well as bind cancer cells, or they just simply do not recognize the cancer cells as something that they have to take some note of, and also destroy in the first place.
Recently, scientists have seen some quite promising results in a trial where defective T cells were extracted from the blood of leukemia patients, reprogrammed to target the specific type of cancer, and inserted back into the body to fight the disease in a more effective way.
Fiona MacDonald reported something back in February, saying:
“In one trial, about 94% of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia saw their symptoms disappear entirely. For those patients with some other types of blood cancer, response rates have been above 80%, and more than a half of them have experienced total remission.”
Another way in which malfunctioning immunity can be addressed is by using a healthy immunity to kick it back into gear. In this study which is from recently, one team that comes from the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the University of Oslo extracted T cells from healthy donors and inserted mutated DNA from the cancer cells into the patients.
They also identified the correct DNA sequences by mapping some protein fragments which are called neo-antigens on the outside of cancer cells from just three patients at the Oslo University Hospital.
In all of the three patients, the cancer cells seemed to display a large number of different neo-antigens, but none of them were picked up by their T-cells. Luckily, they did stimulate an immune response in the healthy donor immune cells.
The team also inserted active components from these donor immune cells into the immune cells of the three cancer patients. It has found that this prompted their immune cells to effectively recognize the neo-antigens on the surface of the cancer cells, and kick-start an immune response.
They are using a ‘borrowed’ immunity to help the existing immunity ‘see’ the cancer cells for the first time.
While this is only a proof-of-concept study with just three participants, the results are promising enough that the treatment will hopefully be tested in a much wider clinical study in the future.
What we are going to see more and more is the idea that cancer treatments need to be more personalized and quite simple smarter than what has been offered for several decades now, and addressing the things which are holding back an individual’s immune system from doing its job just might be the answer.
One of the team, named Johanna Olweus, said:
“Our study presents that the principle of outsourcing cancer immunity to a donor is sound. But, we have to do more work before the patients can benefit from this discovery. Currently, we are exploring high-throughput methods to identify the neo-antigens which the T-cells can ‘see’ on cancer and isolate the responding cells. But, the results showing that we can obtain cancer-specific immune system from the blood of healthy people are already very promising.”
The effects and results have been published in Science Mag.