Researchers at Cardiff University in the UK have discovered an extraordinary ‘living drug’ in the bloodwork of a late-stage cancer survivor. A year after receiving “the biggest development in cancer therapy” in more than 50 years, this patient’s body was still protected by a fleet of souped-up killer immune cells known as T-cells. These special T-cells may be much better at recognizing and attacking tumors than average T-cells and could even take down multiple different types of cancer from various angles at once.
Cardiff University biologist Andy Sewell explains that their findings were surprising because nobody knew that individual T-cells could recognize cancer cells via several different cancer-associated proteins simultaneously. The researchers wanted to know how some patients with end-stage cancer who had been treated with [tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte] therapy successfully cleared their cancer, so they went hunting for answers.
In the last decade or so, tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy has emerged as a powerful new way to possibly eradicate late-stage tumors. TIL therapy involves taking a patient’s own white blood cells directly from their tumor and growing and artificially enhancing them to better attack cancer. In clinical trials, the therapy seems to work more than 80 percent of the time.
“There are reasons to be optimistic, there are reasons to be pessimistic, said researcher Stanley Riddell, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington state. He added that the researchers believe that lowering the dose of T-cells can reduce the risk of side-effects. “These are in patients that have failed everything. Most of the patients in our trial would be projected to have two to five months to live.”
Despite the incredible results of tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy, scientists still don’t know how the therapy works on a cellular level. Researchers at Cardiff University have been trying to figure that out for years and have now had a breakthrough.
When examining the results of phase I and II clinical trials, in which 31 patients with malignant melanoma received TIL therapy, researchers found those who successfully cleared their cancer still showed strong T-cell responses more than a year later. The T-cells from one of these patients were remarkably ‘multi-pronged’, showing the potential to respond to most types of cancer, not just melanoma.
Cardiff University biologist Andy Sewell says, “Importantly, we have seen large numbers of multi-pronged T-cells in the blood of cancer survivors. To date, we have not found such multi-pronged T-cells in people where cancer progresses.” Sewell and his colleagues must now carefully watch these multi-pronged T-cells attack cancer in the lab to confirm whether these immune cells are responsible for the great outcomes of TIL therapy.
One of the lead authors, Cardiff University immunologist Garry Dolton says, “[W]e hope to investigate whether engineered multi-pronged T-cells can be used to treat a wide range of cancers in a similar way to how engineered CAR-T cells are now used to treat some types of leukemia.”
CAR-T cells are chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies and are already approved as a treatment for blood cancer by the US Food and Drug Advisory. CAR-T therapy differs slightly from TIL therapy because it reprograms specific T-cells to target certain parts of a cancer cell. Because TIL T-cells come straight from a solid tumor, they are more diverse, and scientists don’t need to fiddle with their attack mechanisms nearly as much. Perhaps this is what makes them so effective against so many types of cancer.
Newly Discovered T-Cells Could Rid Late-Stage Cancer Patients of Tumors – Science Alert
Study of Penn Patients with Decade-Long Leukemia Remissions after CAR T Cell Therapy Reveals New Details About Persistence of Personalized “Living Drug” Cells – Penn Medicine News
Superior T-cell discovered in cancer survivors – Cardiff University News
Targeting of multiple tumor-associated antigens by individual T cell receptors during successful cancer immunotherapy – Cell
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