Recently, scientists were boggled by an astonishing discovery of a, previously unknown, immune cell that can help control cancerous growth and form a basis for “one size fits all” treatment therapy for different cancers.
“One size fits all” refers to the description of products that can be used for every situation, deeming ‘fit’ for every instance. The term has also been used for a type of process or procedure that would be suitable in all applications.
A team of scientists found the new cell, known as a T-cell while studying mice and conducting experiments on them for possible cures of cancer. The T-cells were able to distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells in the body and could be used to eliminate the problematic cells in future treatments. The findings were published in a medical journal, Nature Immunology.
A T-cell is a type of lymphocyte – white blood cell, that develops in the thymus gland and plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system. A mature cell further differentiates into different cells, which perform different functions in the body.
Cytotoxic T-cells, also known as ‘killer cells’, are responsible for mediated cell death – killing of a cell infected by a virus. These are also the ones responsible for getting rid of cancerous cells.
Other types include ‘T helper cells’, that alert other immune cells about the presence of a foreign organism in the body, and ‘T suppressor cells’, that block the actions of some white blood cells to prevent the immune system from becoming over-active.
The T cells can be effective in killing “lung, skin, leukemia, colon, breast, prostate, bone, kidney, cervical, and ovarian cancers”.
The researchers believe that protein receptors on these T cells are capable of detecting cancerous cells from their ‘interaction with a molecule called MR1, which is present on the surface of human cells’. This MR1 molecule ‘may be signaling the compromised metabolism of the cell to the T cell receptors.’
According to Gary Dolton, co-author of the study, “We are the first to describe a T-cell that finds MR1 in cancer cells—that hasn’t been done before, this is the first of its kind.”
Andrew Sewell, a professor at the ‘Division of Infection and Immunity at Cardiff University, U.K.’ and also the lead author of the study, shared that his team made the discovery while analyzing blood samples. He continued, “We were looking for something else! All the best scientific discoveries are made by mistake”.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Sewell said, “This was a serendipitous finding, nobody knew this cell existed. Our finding 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. Previously nobody believed this could be possible.” He added that the ‘’immune cell may be quite rare, or it could be that lots of people have this receptor but for some reason, it is not activated. We just don’t know yet”.
Scientists believe that a discovery like this might improve the present-day immunotherapy techniques drastically, and actually lead to finding a cure for the horrendous disease.
Professor of Immunology at the University of Manchester, Daniel Davis, said, “In general, we are in the midst of a medical revolution harnessing the power of the immune system to tackle cancer. But not everyone responds to the current therapies and there can be harmful side-effects.”