Immunotherapy is cancer treatment’s new go-to remedy. Technicians take white blood cells from a patient—the “killer T cells” of the immune system —isolate the ones best suited to fight the patient’s form of cancer, then genetically engineer them to be “super T cells” able to overcome cancer’s defenses.
However, re-engineering a patient’s cells takes time—which cancer patients don’t always have—and the treatment may not work if the patient’s immune system was weak to begin with.
At ETH Zurich, the Swiss technical university, researchers wanted to find a way to amp up anyone’s T cells so they could be used to treat anyone’s cancer. But the body’s immune system is always on guard against aliens, which includes other people’s T-cells.
To skirt the obstacle, the team focused on a group of molecules called TCR-CD3 that rides on the surface of T cells and directs them toward specific targets, including cancer.
The scientists synthesized a version of the molecular cluster. The new version is beefed up to fight cancer but the genome has been adjusted so the cluster doesn’t alarm the immune system, even if the cluster was made from someone else’s cells.
Initial results indicate that, eventually, any healthy person could donate T cells that could be used by anyone else, in theory creating one-size-fits-all immunotherapy treatments for cancer.
The developers have formed a start-up company to commercialize their discovery while they continue tests and plan for clinical human trials.
Not to be outdone, bioscientists at the University of California Berkeley have genetically modified E. coli, a bacterium common in the human gut but that can also be responsible for raging infections if malevolent strains are introduced.
The manufactured bacterium is able to evade cancer tumors’ defenses and penetrate the tumor itself. Once inside, the tumor’s internal environment triggers a chemical reaction in the bacterium that poisons the tumor, which begins to fall apart.
As the tumor disintegrates, the body’s own T cells are better able to swarm it and kill what remains.
In tests with mice, the bacteria worked against tumors directly injected with the bugs as well as tumors elsewhere in the body that hadn’t been treated.
The engineered microbes have shown no sign of affecting healthy tissue, the researchers reported.
Clinical human trials are being planned.
TRENDPOST: Genetic engineering, combined with nature’s chemicals and creatures, will gradually overpower diseases and chronic conditions that have plagued humanity for millennia.
By mid-century, most, if not all, forms of cancer will be routinely curable.