Imagine specially training a police force and sending them to the roughest neighborhood in the city. Essentially, this is what happens when researchers successfully “train” T-cells to target cancer. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that are the core of the body’s tailored defense against specific pathogens. They help us recover from viruses and colds within a week or so, and researchers hope to eventually cure cancer in much the same way, even if the time period is a little longer.
When the T-cells are extracted from the patient, they are genetically modified and grown in a lab, and eventually placed back into the patient’s body. If the process is successful, T-cells fight existing cancer cells and prevent the growth of new ones. The lab process allows patients to receive the healing help of billions of cells without having to develop them themselves; meanwhile their bodies can work on other healing processes without expending extra energy they may or may not have.
(Scroll up on the picture and move the bar to see the T-cells in action)
T-cell immunotherapy has recently been a key part of hard-to-treat head and neck cancer research. The therapy also effectively battles lethal Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and quickly metastasizing disease.
The most interesting part about immunotherapy is its effectiveness in the two main types of cancer: genetic and viral. Considering about 20% of cancer is acquired via virus, treating these cases with the patient’s own cells is truly a breakthrough.
The treatment has also recently been approved to treat lung and kidney cancer. Only time will tell if these cancers respond as well as the diseases mentioned above.
Viruses don’t stand a chance against T-cells, or T-lymphocytes. As seen in the video, these cells are literally attacking the foreign cancer cells without attacking benign cells. With the success seen in patients of various forms of cancer and various age groups, T-cell immunotherapy may be the next best option since the development of chemotherapy 50 years ago.