Scientists in both the US and UK are working on a potential new way to treat cancer. The therapy involves implanting immune cells from healthy people into the bodies of cancer patients. It is hoped these “immune system transplants” will then enhance the body’s natural ability to fight against the cancer, essentially giving the immune system a leg up. Although it’s still “very early days”, some patients will start receiving the treatment in clinical trials over the next couple of years.
In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Professor Adrian Hayday of London’s Francis Crick Institute spoke about this field of research and its exciting potential to improve on current cancer treatments. He explained that enhancing the body’s immune system is the “ultimate do-it-yourself approach” when it comes to treating cancer.
“Even a few years ago the notion that any clinician would look at a patient and deliver a therapy which wasn’t going to directly affect the cancer in any way, shape or form, would have been pretty radical. But that’s what's happening,” he told The Telegraph.
Until recently, it’s been thought that immune cell transplants wouldn’t work as the body would simply reject the new cells and the immunosuppressant drugs required would cause side effects that outweighed the benefits. However, researchers discovered that the transplanted immune cells actually survive surprisingly well in the body, making the transplants a viable option.
“We’re seeing impressive results with cells called natural killer cells,” explained Hayday. “It’s very early days but there are patients receiving them in this next year and the year after, and the nice feature is, unlike other immunotherapy, these cells aren’t rejected.”
Clinical trials on these natural killer cells will soon take place in the US. After this, in 2020, Hayday's own research will go to clinical trial. His team uses immune cells called gamma delta T cells in place of natural killer cells. In November, they published a study in Nature Immunology showing that these T cells can be used to identify and kill dangerous cells within the body.
"If [these] transfusions work, as the early trials suggest they may, then establishing and maintaining donor cell banks is a realistic concept, albeit practically challenging," Hayday told IFLScience. Scientists hope that we might one day have “immune banks” that store immune cells ready to be transplanted into patients, just as we have blood banks today.
Scientists at the Crick Institute and around the world are working tirelessly to find new ways to combat cancer. At the moment, about half of people with cancer in the UK are still alive 10 years after diagnosis thanks to recent medical advancements. The Crick researchers hope to improve this statistic to 75 percent of patients over the next 15 years.
With modern technology, it seems more and more potential cancer treatments are emerging and being tested to see how well they work. Scientists hope that one day we will be able to replace current treatments that aren't always effective and can cause some very unpleasant side effects.
"Combination therapies are probably the way ahead for cancer," Hayday told IFLScience, "and so as the different approaches mature, we are likely to see optimal efficacy from carefully designed combinations of immunotherapies and molecular chemotherapies.
"Whether or not all cancer types will prove responsive is far from clear, with aggressive pancreatic cancer remaining one example of the major challenges ahead."
[H/T: The Telegraph]