A revolutionary new cancer treatment that remembers the disease and acts like a watchman to prevent it ever returning is being developed by scientists.
Researchers are engineering immune cells so that they not only boost the body’s own natural defences to fight tumours, but stand guard for a lifetime – acting effectively like a vaccine.
Scientists say it is like having a “living drug”, which is constantly vigilant to the return of cancer and quickly removes it from the body.
A new study, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington, has proven for the first time that engineered “memory T-cells” can persist in the body for at least 14 years.
Professor Chiara Bonini, a haematologist at San Raffaele Scientific Institute and Vita e Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, said: “T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives.
“Imagine when you are given a vaccine as a kid and you are protected against flu or whatever for all of your life. Why is that? It’s because when a T-cell encounters the antigen and gets activated, it kills the pathogen but also persists as a memory cell.
“Imagine translating this to cancer immunotherapy, to have memory T-cells that remember the cancer and are ready for when it comes back.”
In a trial at a Milan hospital, ten patients who had bone marrow transplants were also given immune-boosting therapy which included the memory T-cells. They were found to be there 14 years later.
Immunotherapies, which harness the body’s own immune system, look set to replace cell-damaging chemotherapies. But one of the biggest challenges is to make these changes last long enough that the cancer cannot come back.
The Milan study proved for the first time scientists have shown that these cells can survive in the body well beyond the original cancer treatment.
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SOURCE: The Telegraph, Sarah Knapton