All of us have to deal with the looming threat of developing cancer during our lifetime, no matter how good our genetics are, or how healthy our lifestyle is. Despite major improvements to the way that we treat and even cure cases of cancer, the reality today is that not all types of cancer are treatable, in many cases there’s the likelihood that one day it will return even after full remission, and chemotherapy in particular comes with potential life-long health issues. Of the most promising new and upcoming treatments, immunotherapy, is decidedly among the most interesting.
With this approach, it is the body’s own immune system that is taught to attack those cancer cells, requiring little more than a few tweaks to T-cells harvested from the patient’s body, after which they’re sent on their merry cancer-killing way. Yet as simple as this sounds, finding the right characteristics which identify the cancerous cells, and getting a solid and long-lasting immune response is a tough challenge. Despite highly promising results with immunotherapy treatment for non-solid cancers like leukemia – that have resulted in almost miraculous cures – translating this success to other cancer types has so far remained elusive.
New research now shows that changing some characteristics of these modified (chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR) T-cells may be key to making them significantly more long-lived and effective within a patient’s body. Is this the key to making immunotherapy possible for many more cancers?