Tumors Hold the Keys to Their Own Destruction

Monday, March 7, 2016 - 16:45

The discovery of dormant T-cells could guide future immunotherapies and improve the way existing immunotherapy drugs are used.

Scientists of Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust have discovered how the genetic complexity of tumors can be recognized and exploited by the immune system, even when the disease is at its most advanced stages. Based on this research, as a tumor develops, the diversity of its genetic faults can be flagged on the cancer cell surface, as unique mutations appear in different parts of the tumor, Medical Express reports.

By analyzing data from hundreds of patients from previous studies, researchers found that some of these antigen flags represent the very earliest mutations of the disease and are detectable on all cells in the tumor, rather than a subset of tumor cells.

Specialised immune T-cells were then isolated in vitro from samples of two patients with lung cancer that can recognise these common flags present on every tumour cell. Normally, although T-cells can potentiallywipe out all cancerous cells within the tumor, they are shut down by the tumor’s defenses.

This research paves the way for therapies that specifically activate T-cells to target all the tumor cells at once based on the disease's genetic signature. In the future, scientists could exploit this by developing a therapeutic vaccine to activate T-cells, or harvesting, growing and administering T-cells back into the patient that recognize the antigens common to every cancer cell.


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