Could this 'revolutionary' medical development be the cure for cancer?

By Lindsay de Freitas
16 February 2016

A pioneering new treatment could lead to the ever elusive ‘cure for cancer’ as scientists break ground with immunotherapy vaccine.

A pioneering new treatment could lead to the ever-elusive cure for cancer as scientists break ground with an immunotherapy vaccine.

Dubbed "the living drug", the treatment called immunotherapy uses the body’s own T-cells – the white blood cells which fight off viruses and bacteria and are the basis of our immune system.

The T-cells are removed from the patient and genetically tweaked to recognise and attack cancer cells. Scientists then grow the genetically-modified cells in their millions in a lab and return them to the patient’s body where they hunt down and attack cancer cells.

“T-cells are a living drug and they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives,” explained Italian researcher Professor Chiara Bonini, highlighting the value of these little fighter cells.

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According to the professor the concept of immunotherapy could be turned into a drug which will function similarly to a flu vaccine.

“Imagine when you are given a vaccine as a kid and you’re protected against flu or whatever for all of your life. Why is that? When a T-cell encounters the antigen and gets activated, it kills the pathogen but also persist as a memory cell.”

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Professor Bonini carried out a trial in Milan with 10 patients who had undergone bone marrow transplants and were given infusions of T-cells. The team of scientists tracked the cells for between two and 14 years and, in a ground-breaking revelation, found that low but stable levels were still in the blood at the end of the study.

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While the treatment has shown promise in a series of studies all over the world, it still can lead to severe or even fatal side-effects and it will be a while before it can save lives.

Mostly all of the success so far has been in leukaemia and other liquid cancers as opposed to solid cancers such as prostate cancer, breast cancer and other tumours.


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