British scientists have discovered a new immune cell that can kill at least 10 types of cancers by accident, a discovery that could herald a major breakthrough in treatment.
Researchers at Cardiff University were analysing blood from a bank in Wales, looking for immune cells that could fight bacteria, when they found an entirely new type of T-cell.
This new immune cell carries a never-before-seen receptor, which acts like a grappling hook, latching on to most human cancers, while ignoring healthy cells.
According to the research, the new immune cells can kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancers.
Prof Andrew Sewell, lead author on the study and an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said it was “highly unusual” to find a cell that had broad cancer-fighting therapies, and raised the prospect of a universal treatment.
“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. Previously nobody believed this could be possible,
“Possibly. This immune cell could 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,” he said.
He added that therapies, which engineer immune cells to fight specific types of cancer, already exist, but they are currently only useful for some forms of leukaemia and do not work for solid tumours, which account for most cancers.
Prof Awen Gallimore, of the university’s division of infection and immunity and cancer immunology lead for the Wales Cancer Research Centre, added: “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 personalised T-cells.”
According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for nearly 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about one in six deaths is due to cancer.
Nearly 70 per cent of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The most common causes of cancer deaths are cancers of:
Lung (2.09 million cases);
Breast (2.09 million cases);
Colorectal (1.80 million cases);
Prostate (1.28 million cases);
Skin cancer (non-melanoma) (1.04 million cases);
Stomach (1.03 million cases).