You can improve your immune system’s ability to fight cancer.
CAR-T immunotherapies have previously been partially successful against a small number of cancers and have not been successful for everyone. CAR-T-cell immunotherapies, on the other hand, have been found to fight a broader range of tumors types with precision-control, according to two studies.
Both studies point to significant advances in cancer treatment and have the potential to change the way we think about cancer. The act of deciding whether one person is responsible for the actions of another.
The act of deciding whether one person is responsible for the actions of another.
What is CAR-T Cancer Therapy?
In research papers published in Science magazine, the success of ‘chimeric antigen receptor’ (CAR)-T cancer therapies is highlighted. These therapies use genetically modified T cells to target and eliminate cancer cells.
They have long term abstinence. However, they are only effective against a small number of cancers and are not suitable for everyone. According to a 2019 study, only 13% of cancer patients responded to immunotherapy.
What have researchers achieved so far?
Building on the success of previous CAR-T therapies, researchers can genetically modify T cells to have “switches” that allow them to control when and where the cells are active. These “hack” cells secrete a protein that activates T cells. This, in turn, counteracts the immunosuppressive signals often released by tumours.
What is it all about?
T cells are white blood cells. They are immune system cells that develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. They have been found to be beneficial in fighting cancer cells as well as protecting the body from infections.
These T cells typically function as police officers. They patrol the body, looking for infections in the form of foreign proteins which are displayed on the surface of cells, which could be infected with a virus. They could also be tumour cells that produce abnormal, cancer-related proteins. And the T cells then finish the foreign cells off.
CAR-T therapies involve genetically engineering T cells from cancer patients to become chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs. These are engineered proteins that recognise the proteins displayed by tumour cells.
This therapy has been shown to be effective and is now approved for the treatment of certain types of leukaemias, lymphomas, and myelomas. However, the medical research fraternity has been looking to expand their success to more types of cancers and tumours. Furthermore, they have been looking for ways to make the treatments safer and more effective.
Both studies, published in science (read them here and here), represent huge advances in cancer treatment and have the potential to change the way we think about cancer. They see synthetic biology bringing the benefits of immunotherapy to more patients. It is a new field of study that seeks to redesign nature to serve new and more useful functions.
According to Gregoire Alton-Bonet, a systems immunologist at the National Cancer Institute in the United States, the two studies are a tour de force in T-cell engineering. They highlight the direction researchers want to push CAR-T-cell therapy, he says, “We know a lot of the parts, and now we can put them together and explore. If we design the system right, we can effectively put tumours under protection.”