Some researchers claim that the best treatment option for cancer is already within us...our own immune system.
BBC news reports on new research regarding the human immune system. Researchers are saying they have found a way to ‘steer’ one’s own immune system to kill cancer.
Experts at University College in London have created a way of detecting unique markings within a tumor - its ‘Achilles heel’ – as they like to call it, allowing the immune system to target the cancer.
This new report on the personalized method was recently published in the journal Science. The study was funded by Cancer Research UK.
The team who conducted the study said they are excited by the findings. They also said that they hope this will become the new backbone to treatment plans.
Why has it been so difficult to come up with a vaccine to target cancer?
“The problem is cancers are not made up of identical cells - they are a heavily mutated, genetic mess and samples at different sites within a tumour can look and behave very differently,” according to BBC news.
Cancers are said to grow kind of like a tree with core ‘trunk’ mutations, but then mutations that branch off in all different directions. Experts in the field call this cancer heterogeneity.
The new international study created a way of discovering the ‘trunk’ mutations that change antigens; these are the proteins that ‘stick out from the surface of cancer cells’.
Professor Charles Swanton, from the UCL Cancer Institute, commented on the study. He said, “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. This is really fascinating and takes personalised medicine to its absolute limit, where each patient would have a unique, bespoke treatment.”
Researchers are suggesting two different approaches for targeting the trunk mutations. The first approach is to develop cancer vaccines for each patient, which will train the immune system to detect them. The second approach is to look for immune cells that can already seek out those mutations and increase their numbers in the lab, and then place these back into one’s own body.
Dr. Marco Gerlinger, from the Institute of Cancer Research, commented on the study. He said, “This is a very important step and makes us think about heterogeneity as a problem and why this gives cancer this big advantage.” Many experts are excited about how much immunotherapy (harnessing one’s own immune system) will be advanced in the next few years.