Research released in late January 2020 reveals hope for a universal cancer cure
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
If you’ve read anything that I’ve written on cancer cures, you know that I’m a skeptic. I mean – let’s be honest here folks – cancer isn’t one disease. Cancer describes cells growing out of control – which can be caused by any number of factors including viruses, our environment, and genetics. So, late last month, when my social media feed began to be filled with stories of a team of British scientists that stumbled onto a possible cure for all cancers, my mind immediately thought – yeah right – this sounds like Ray Stevens singing about “Jeremiah Peabody.”
So, with my ever-present skepticism in high gear, I set out to read more about this phenomenon. The first thing that struck me was that the entirety of this article has been made public. That is how important this work has become. The second thing that is big here that I haven’t seen in a lot of these “breakthroughs” in the past – this in a well-respected, peer-reviewed publication. Peer review is massive in the scientific community – it means that scientists not involved in the research, but knowledgeable in the area, have reviewed the article and feel that it is worthy of publication. Having the full text of their article in front of me, I was able to dive further into the articles we are seeing on our newsfeeds.
And, I was blown away.
If you’ll bear with me for a few minutes, I’ll do my best to explain this breakthrough, and what it could mean for the future of cancer treatments.
A little background info
Within our bodies, we have various cells that are important in our immune response. The big ones that we hear about in cancer treatment and immunotherapy are T-cells. On these T-cells, there are receptors that recognize certain proteins on the surfaces of other cells – these could be bacteria, viruses, or even cancer cells. In immunotherapy, researchers work to get these T-cells to recognize cancers through a variety of means. For more info on that, take a look at “Immunotherapy and Cancer.”
With immunotherapy in cancer, doctors want these T-cells to recognize certain proteins on the surface of cancer cells, which will make the T-cells “attack” and kill the cancer cell, while hopefully ignoring healthy cells.
The New Research
Michael Crother and his colleagues at Cardiff University School of Medicine and other institutions around the world have stumbled upon a discovery that yes, could change the face of cancer treatment as we know it.
Crowther and his team took T cells that were harvested from a healthy donor and grew them in the presence of lung cancer cells. These T cells (known as MC.7.G5) “learned” to recognize the cancer cells. Specifically, they recognized a protein known as MR1 on the surface of these cells. What is amazing here is that the MR1 protein is on the surface of all cancer cells – not just lung cancer. And guess what – it’s not on the surface of healthy cells – even cells that are infected with bacteria or viruses – it’s only on cancer cells.
The above graph, from the article by Crowther, el al, cited below, shows how melanoma cells were killed at various concentrations of the T-cell, versus how normal liver cells survived.
This is where it gets super cool (read as my inner nerd is overjoyed). When the researchers deactivated the expression of the MR1 protein on the cancer cells – the MC.7.G5 T cells ignored them – just like they ignored healthy cells.
And this was not only seen in lung cancer cells – it was also seen in skin cancer (melanoma), leukemia, colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, bone cancer, and ovarian cancer. Cancers that have multiple and diverse causes. This is shown visually in a graph taken from the article by Crowther, et al, cited below, shows the percent of cancer cells killed by cancer type. Amazing stuff, right!
Now – all of the above were in what is know as in vitro trials – meaning tests done on tissue cultures in a lab. These were followed by in vivo studies in mice. Healthy mice were given Jurkat leukemia, followed by infusions of MC.5.G7. Bone marrow biopsies were performed at 12 and 18 days after the infusion of the investigational product. The researchers saw higher concentrations of MC.5.G7 in the bone marrow at day 12 than at day 18, indicating that the percentage of leukemia cells in the bone marrow was decreasing over time. At the end of the time period, the mice treated with MC.5.G7 had significantly fewer Jurkat cells than the control group. They also found that the targeting of the Jurkat cells was dependent upon the expression of the MR1 protein – meaning that the more this protein was found, the better the treatment worked.
What this means for cancer treatment
Current antibodies used against the MR1 protein aren’t effective when the MR1 concentrations are low. They just can’t recognize it. One of the exciting aspects of this treatment is that, “Indeed, the level of MR1 surface expression required for cancer cell recognition by MC.7.G5 was often below the threshold required for staining with antibody, suggesting that the MC.7.G5 TCR (T-cell receptor) might by capable of responding to a low copy number of the MR1 ligand (surface protein),” (Crowther, et al, 2020). To put it into plain English – even when the cancer cells aren’t producing enough MR1 for a lab stain to be positive, MC.7.G5 is seeing it and attacking it.
While this is all amazing news – mind-blowing if you will – we need to remember that these are all in pre-clinical stages. Before this potential treatment makes it to the market – it has to make it through human clinical trials, ensuring safety and efficacy. Researchers caution us that this treatment may not work on “all cancers” – as only time and testing will tell that. Human trials are expected to begin as early as November 2020 according to one of the lead authors, Andrew Sewell, in terminally ill patients, but only once more safety studies have been completed.
What an amazing time it is that we live. As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!
We at Cancer Horizons would like to thank Crowther, et al for the publication of their work in its entirety. We also would like to further emphasize that the graphs in this article are the work of Crowther, et al, as published in Nature Immunology.
Crowther, M. D., Dolton, G., Legut, M., Caillaud, M. E., Lloyd, A., Attaf, M., … Sewell, A. K. (2020). Genome-wide CRISPR–Cas9 screening reveals ubiquitous T cell cancer targeting via the monomorphic MHC class I-related protein MR1. Nature Immunology, 21(2), 178–185. doi: 10.1038/s41590-019-0578-8