Hope for new treatments in cancer related ailments may have emerged as researchers at University College, London have developed a way of locating unique markings within a tumor, which has been described as their “Achilles heel” and which will allow the body to target the disease. They however report in the science journal where the findings are documented, that the personalized method would be expensive and it has not yet been tried on patients.
The major British discovery lends to the expectation of revolutionary bespoke treatments for patients with advanced cancer, who could enter trials within two years. Experts who give a nod to the idea also say however that it could be more complicated in reality. With attempts at developing a cancer vaccine, people have attempted to steer the immune system to attack and kill tumors before, but the vaccines have largely flopped. One explanation given is that they were training the body’s own defenses to go after the wrong target as the rapidly changing cancer cells present too many constantly changing targets.
Cancer Research UK in a video about the findings describes how immune cells could be encouraged to exploit this weakness saying in one instance; “They could form a fierce cancer-fighting force with the potential to target every cancer cell in the body,”. What the researchers found were rare “flag” proteins that act as immune system targets and are displayed on the surface of the patient’s tumor cells, wherever they exist in the body. Once those omnipresent proteins are isolated, potent immune system cells called T-cells can then be employed as homing missiles to hone in on them and destroy the task.
The work is still at a very early stage and so far only two of the special proteins and the T-cells that recognize them have been identified in two lung patients but the scientists hope to see hurried progress that will lead up to patient trials. Professor Charles Swanton, from University College London’s Cancer Institute, said; “Do we think it’s going to work? I hope this is going to result in improvements in survival outcomes. If this doesn’t work, I’ll probably hang my hat up and do something else.”
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician also said; “It gets us closer to knowing why some patients respond to immunotherapy treatment and others don’t, and how we might select which patients will benefit the most.” All feedback for the new findings are not positive though, Dr Stefan Symeonides, clinician scientist in experimental cancer medicine at the University of Edinburgh, for instance said that; “designing a personalized vaccine was currently impractical, especially when a patient needed treatment straight away.” All scientists however agree that the study provides a groundbreaking insight into the deadly disease.