British researchers have found a new way to identify immune cells capable of detecting tumors — opening a path to treatments that could trigger the body's natural defenses to wipe out cancer.
The discovery by scientists at University College, London promises to bring greater precision to the new generation of "cancer immunotherapies", which have been generating excitement as the most important breakthrough in oncology for decades.
Immunotherapies, which aim to help patients' disease-fighting T-cells hunt and destroy tumours, have been shown to extend the lives of some people with advanced forms of cancer for months or years. But the first of these drugs to reach the market only work in about a third of patients.
The research could open the way to increase response rates by identifying T-cells that can reach every tumour cell — rather than just a subset — leading to more potent therapies.
Working with academics across the US and Europe, the UCL scientists sought to understand how the immune system could keep track of the constant genetic mutations in tumour cells that make the disease so hard to treat.