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expert reaction to study looking at a new immune cell and cancer in mice and cells

Research, published in Nature Immunology, reports the discovery of a new type of T-cell  in mice, which could theoretically be used to treat a large variety of cancers.


Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research and Policy at the blood cancer charity Bloodwise, said:

“While CAR-T therapy has been one of the most remarkable breakthroughs in blood cancer treatment in recent years – offering the last chance of a cure in many cases – its use has been limited to a small number of cancer types, it is very expensive and not everyone will respond.

“The development of a ‘one size fits all’ type of immunotherapy, which could target different types of cancer cell and does not need to be manufactured for each individual patient, is an exciting prospect.  This research represents a new way of targeting cancer cells that is really quite exciting, although much more research is needed to understand precisely how it works.  It is still early days and we are a while off from confirming whether this approach will definitely work in patients.

“If it can be achieved, it could deliver new and kinder treatment options for people living with cancer, who often experience debilitating side effects as a result of their treatment.”


Dr Astero Klampatsa, Team Leader in Cancer Immunotherapy, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“In recent years, there have been great advances in enlisting the body’s own immune system to attack cancer – such as in CAR-T therapy, a kind of ‘living immunotherapy’ where the patient’s own immune cells are used to attack cancer cells.

“CAR-T cells have to be engineered for each patient individually, to take into account the fact that each person’s immune cells have their own molecular ‘signature’ – making the therapy very expensive and laboursome.

“In the new study, researchers found a new kind of T cell which is able to attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone – regardless of the patient or their tumour type.

“Much more research will be needed to understand why this new type of immune cells only goes after cancer cells, and leaves healthy cells alone.  The research focused on leukaemia and melanoma so far, so further studies looking at the effect of the cells in other solid tumour types are needed.

“The new findings are at a very early stage, but they’re an exciting step in the right direction, and brings us one step closer to ‘off-the-shelf’ cell-based immunotherapy.”


Prof Daniel Davis, Professor of Immunology, University of Manchester, said:

“In general, we are in the midst of a medical revolution harnessing the power of the immune system to tackle cancer.  But not everyone responds to the current therapies and there can be harmful side-effects.

“The Cardiff team and their collaborators have made the exciting discovery that a type of immune cell which hasn’t been studied much before, seems able to recognise a broad range of cancers.  The team have convincingly shown that, in a lab dish, this type of immune cell reacts against a range of different cancer cells.  We still need to understand exactly how it recognises and kills cancer cells, while not responding to normal healthy cells.

“So far, the power of these immune cells to kill cancer cells has been tested in a lab dish and in mice.  At the moment, this is very basic research and not close to actual medicines for patients.  But in the long term, the hope is that this type of immune cell could be the basis of new immune therapies, either by infusing these cells directly into patients or by unleashing their capacity to act.  There is no question that is a very exciting discovery, both for advancing our basic knowledge about the immune system and for the possibility of future new medicines.”


‘Genome-wide CRISPR–Cas9 screening reveals ubiquitous T cell cancer targeting via the monomorphic MHC class I-related protein MR1’ by Michael D. Crowther et al. was published in Nature Immunology at 16:00 UK time on Monday 20 January 2020.

DOI: 10.1038/s41590-019-0578-8


Declared interests

Dr Alasdair Rankin: “No interests to declare.”

Prof Daniel Davis: “Davis is the author of The Beautiful Cure (Vintage, 2019), a popular-level book about cancer, the immune system and immunotherapy.”

None others received.

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