Cancer is a devastating disease that affects roughly 14 million families worldwide every year (American Cancer, 2015). As one of the leading causes of death there is a tremendous body of research to aid physicians in treating the various types of cancer. Research also helps pharmaceutical and biomedical companies create new treatments for potential future use on human patients. One current line of investigation has been on the modification of T-cells to create various treatments for various types of cancers. These potential treatments are a combination of technology used for gene therapy and immunizations.
Tumor cells express unique proteins that could be differentiated from healthy cells at the antigenic level (Grady, D., 2011). Each tumor is also unique to the individual because the unique surface cell proteins are caused by mutations that arise from the cancer (Grady, D., 2011). This indicates that each patient would have cancer cells with uniquely mutated surface proteins (). Using the same principles for creating a vaccine, T-cells have been modified to recognize the unique markers on a patients cancer cells (Grady, D., 2011). These cells are administered to the patient and the T-cells are able to target and attack the cancer cells (Grady, D., 2011). The result is two-fold with the cancer cells being killed and the T-cells leaving memory cells for the ‘antigen’ on the cancer cells, thus preventing future proliferation of the targeted cancer (Grady, D., 2011).
This method of treating cancer has proved to be moderately effective with some patients obtaining full remission (Grady, D., 2011). There are also various pharmaceutical companies that have gained rights to the research and are currently working on their version of commercial treatments (Pollack, A., 2015). The drawback to this personalized cancer treatment is that personalizing treatment for millions of people is time consuming and expensive (Pollack, A., 2015). Also, for the treatment to be prepared the patient needs a high T-cell count so that many of the T-cells can be extracted and then modified (Pollack, A., 2015). In some cases patients have extremely low T-cell counts and would not qualify for such a treatment (Pollack, A., 2015). Finally, by making such a personalized and specific treatment there would only be memory in the patient’s immune system to target the first cancer not subsequent newly-mutated cancers (Pollack, A., 2015).
To build upon these problems associated with the first type of treatment there have been new methods created. First, to make the treatment available for millions of cancer patients a solution was to create T-cells that target generalized attributes of cancer cells (Pollack, A., 2015). Even though the treatment is not specific for the patient’s mutations there are common mutations found on the cell surface of different types of cancers (Roswell Park, 2015). Second, the T-cells required from the patient for the first treatment become a roadblock when the patient has a low T-cell count (Pollack, A., 2015). The solution has been to use T-cells that are not from the patient but have been modified to not be attacked by the host immune system (Pollack, A., 2015). To modify these cells they used something similar to the CRISPR Cas9 molecular method to remove specific genes from the T-cell (Pollack, A., 2015).
By created a generalized treatment the inhibitions found in the original treatment have been worked around and the treatment could be used for more patients (Pollack, A., 2015). While this treatment is newer than the first and has not been tested on many human subjects it has been shown to be effective on the few patients that have received the treatment (Pollack, A., 2015). This new treatment is general enough to be effective for various types of leukemia cancers and the first treatment can also be used to target leukemia cancer types with success (Pollack, A., 2015). Unfortunately, both of these methods struggle to work well when the patient has a cancer that has formed a mass (Pollack, A., 2015). A cancer mass acts similarly to healthy cells past the out layer of cells and once the out layer of cells have been targeted the treatment is not programed to continue (Pollack, A., 2015).
Overall, the new developments in cancer research have shown extremely promising preliminary results. While there are various roadblocks on the way to offering this treatment widely the research is new and continues to be developed. Before the treatment can be implemented widely the long-term efficacy needs to be established. There is the possibility that the treatment would not protect against future, different, strains of cancer. Also, if the treatment could not be used multiple times then the application would have to be used as a last-resort treatment instead of as a cell-therapy or cancer immunization. Nevertheless, this new research is exciting and promising for every family affected by cancer.
- American Cancer Society. (2015, October 1). Rising cancer rates in low, middle income countries threaten economic stability: Editorial says prevention efforts important part of health care planning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 18, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151001130056.htm
- Grady, D. (2011, September 12). An Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/health/13gene.html
- Pollack, A. (2015, November 5). A Cell Therapy Untested in Humans Saves a Baby With Cancer. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/business/a-novel-cell-therapy-untested-in-humans-saves-baby-with-cancer.html
- Roswell Park Cancer Institute. (2015, October 15). Special class of T cells shown to both attack cancer cells and enlist other immune cells.ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 18, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151015120316.htm