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The Scientists Who May Have Accidentally Found A Cure For Cancer

Cardiff researchers discover how to modify T-cells to attack cancer cells

Today is World Cancer Day. A day when we should remember that all around the world, researchers are working their arses off trying to cure this bastard of a disease.

They must envy scientists at Cardiff University in Wales (working with researchers from around the world, including Australia) who seem to have accidentally stumbled upon a breakthrough that might wind up acting as an almost universal cancer cure!

“Yeah, it was completely accidental,” says Dr Michael Crowther about the discovery that could revolutionise cancer treatment. “The way science goes a lot of the time, I think!”

Michael was doing his PhD under immunology Professor Andrew Sewell, searching blood samples for immune cells to fight bacteria, when they found an entirely new type of T-cell, the white blood cells which are made in your bone marrow and thymus gland.

Different type of T-cells play a variety of different roles in the immune system. In recent years, some T-cells have been modified to attack specific cancers, usually blood-related. But they only worked on people who had appropriate cells – and were incapable of fighting solid tumours.

But this new cell contained a receptor that had never previously been seen.

The Cardiff team discovered that this T-cell receptor, named MC.7.G5 (“The MC is for my initials, yeah,” admits Michael), targets a molecule called MR1, which is on the surface of every cell in the human body.

When the receptor binds to the cell via this molecule, it checks for the presence of cancer – and kills those cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

How does the new T-cell work?

Lab tests confirmed it – this was a cancer-killing weapon. And because MR1 is omnipresent, this means the T-cell can attack all types of cancer cells: skin, lung, breast, cervical, ovarian, prostate, colon, kidney, bine and blood cancers. And it could potentially work on all people.

“This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed,” Professor Sewell told the Telegraph. “Our finding raises the prospect of a ‘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. Previously nobody believed this could be possible.”

The team’s paper was published last month in Nature. But human trials don’t start until the end of the year. And it’s still a way to go until cancer is vanquished.

“It’s still going to be a very long time, it’s going to be years to a decade, I think, before it’s actually part of the routine procedure of the treatment for cancer,” says Michael. “If it works.”