Researchers at Cardiff University have discovered a new type of killer T-cell that offers hope of "one-size-fits-all" cancer therapy. These T-cells were shown, in the lab, to kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells, while ignoring healthy cells. T-cell therapies for cancer - where immune cells are removed, modified and returned to the patient's blood to seek and destroy cancer cells - are the latest paradigm in cancer treatments. The most widely-used therapy, known as CAR-T, is personalised to each patient but targets only a few types of cancers and has not been successful for solid tumours.
Cardiff researchers have now discovered T-cells equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) which recognises and kills most human cancer types while ignoring healthy cells. According to researchers, it was "highly unusual" to find a TCR with such broad cancer specificity and this raised the prospect of "universal" cancer therapy. "We hope this new TCR may provide us with a different route to target and destroy a wide range of cancers in all individuals," said Professor Andrew Sewell, lead author on the study and an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University's School of Medicine.
This TCR recognises a molecule present on the surface of a wide range of cancer cells as well as in many of the body's normal cells but, remarkably, is able to distinguish between healthy cells and cancerous ones, killing only the latter. The study, published in Nature Immunology, describes a unique TCR that can recognise many types of cancer via a single HLA-like molecule called MR1. Unlike HLA, MR1 does not vary in the human population - meaning it is a hugely attractive new target for immunotherapies.
The researchers said it offers "exciting opportunities for pan-cancer, pan-population" immunotherapies not previously thought possible. "Cancer-targeting via MR1-restricted T-cells is an exciting new frontier - it raises the prospect of '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," elaborated Sewell.