Top 5 Need To Know Facts About the Cancer Breakthrough

Script written by Sean Harris The search for a cancer cure is ongoing, but recent research may have given us an edge in the fight. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from WatchMojo.com where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 5 need to know facts about the ongoing effort to fight cancer, and the T-Cell breakthrough.
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Script written by Sean Harris

Top 5 Need To Know Facts about the Cancer breakthrough


The search for a cancer cure is ongoing, but recent research may have given us an edge in the fight. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from WatchMojo.com where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 5 need to know facts about the ongoing effort to fight cancer, and the T-Cell breakthrough.

#5: What Is “T-Cell” Cancer Therapy?
The Discoveries

Research into T-Cell therapy, a form of immunotherapy, has been labeled a ‘revolution’ in humankind’s battle against cancer. Some experts have even called immunotherapy the ‘fifth pillar’ of cancer treatment, alongside surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapies. A new approach which is yet to be widely tested, the experimental treatment works by equipping the body with modified T-Cells, a type of white blood cell, which can systematically attack weak points on a cancerous tumor. Those weak points, called antigens, are proteins attached to the surface of cancerous cells, and have been described as cancer’s ‘Achilles heel’. As part of the research, cancer growth has been compared to a tree; so-called ‘branches’ spread out from a central ‘trunk’, complicating a cancerous mass. But, T-Cell therapy targets the ‘trunk’, aiming to bring down the branches in turn, to comprehensively remove any threat.

#4: Who Is Leading the Cancer Research?
The Research

Research has been an international effort, involving scientists from the UK, US, Germany and Denmark, and largely funded by CancerResearch UK. Dr. Sergio Quezada of University College London’s Cancer Institute described it as ‘the most amazing collaboration [he’d] ever worked on,’ and Professor Charles Swanton – co-author of the study published in ‘Science’, and also of UCL – explained how immunotherapy can take ‘personalized medicine to its absolute limit.’ Dr. Stanley Riddell is the one credited for successful early testing, as he made headlines in February 2016 when his experimental treatment at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center drew unprecedented results. For example, a small group of 29 patients with previously incurable or constantly relapsing lymphoblastic leukemia underwent Riddell’s immune cell therapy, and 93% went into complete remission.

#3: What Would Be the Potential Treatments?
The Cure

Dr. Quezada has suggested that recent developments could lead to two types of treatment: customized vaccines or targeted T-Cell production. A vaccine designed to tackle each individual cancer would represent the ‘ultimate personalized form of therapy’, and could yield exceptionally efficient results. If we are able to identify the ‘trunk’ of any tumor, then there’s potential for us to vaccinate against the vast majority. The second treatment involves ‘fishing’ T-Cells from a patient, multiplying them outside of the body, and then re-injecting them for a stronger, more effective attack on cancerous cells. There are drawbacks to both methods however, including speed limitations, and high expense.

#2: What Was the Outcome for Patients?
The Results

Although the new treatments are not likely to be widely used for some time, initial tests have produced encouraging results. As well as Riddell’s 93% success rate, the researcher also saw 65% of 30 participants with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma go into remission. In total, Riddell has treated around 100 patients with the therapy, with mostly favorable outcomes. Much of the early testing, performed by Riddell and others, has been carried out on patients for whom all other options had failed. In some cases, people had been given months to live before undergoing immunotherapy, and then staging a recovery. According to Dr. Renier J. Brentjens of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and another leading figure in the early trials, results so far ‘are proof of principle that we can successfully alter patients’ T-Cells so that they attack their cancer cells.

#1: What Does This Mean for the Fight Against Cancer?
The Future

While this is a significant development, and a potentially crucial step forward, it’s important to remember that the T-Cell immunotherapy breakthrough is not a cure for cancer - yet. It’s still too early to fully back the treatment, which has so far produced promising results but on a small scale. Charles Swanton has himself underlined that the research is still in its infancy; ‘we’re not naïve,’ he said, ‘we knowthere is a long way to go. This is the first step in an exciting journey.’ However, excitement has naturally bred hope, as doctors look to T-Cell research to potentially save millions of lives every year. The work of Swanton, Quezada, Riddell and others could still prove to be a false dawn, but recent trials are sure to be considered a landmark moment, and a clear step in the right direction.
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