Vaccine-like treatment could one day be used to prevent cancer, study suggests

T-cells could be used to destroy cancerous cells 

Vaccine-like treatments could one day be used to prevent people from developing cancer, new research has found.

Scientists believe that rare white blood cells in the immune system known as T-cells could be programmed to stop cancers forming for many years.

The research is part of the development of the field of cancer immunotherapies, which harness the body’s immune system to attack tumours, and are hoped to be the future of combating the disease. 

Dubbed a "living drug", the treatment would see the cells monitoring the body from cancerous tumour cells, which would be destroyed.

Lead researcher Professor Chiara Bonini, from the University of Milan in Italy, said: "T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives.

"Some of these memory T-cells will persist through the entire life of the organism.

"Imagine translating this to cancer immunotherapy, to have memory T-cells that remember the cancer and are ready for it when it comes back."

The process would involve finding T-cells cells with endurance which would be genetically modified in order to attack the cancer cells. 

The team behind the findings analysed 10 cancer patients who received bone marrow transplants which were infused with traceable T-cells. 

After 14 years, scientists found that a small number of the cells were circulating the patients’ blood streams. 

The research was relayed at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) taking place in Washington DC.

Commenting on the study, British immunologist Professor Daniel Davis, from the University of Manchester, said: "These T-cells, the stem memory T-cells first identified in 2011, have stem cell-like properties and are thought to be important for long-lived immune responses.

"The implication is that infusing genetically modified versions of these particular T-cells ... could provide a long-lasting immune response against a person's cancer.

"Immunotherapy has great potential to revolutionise cancer treatment and this study shows which type of T-cells might be especially useful to manipulate for long-lasting protection."

The study comes as early research by pharmaceutical firm AztraZeneca suggested it could soon be possible to combine two cancer drugs to use a patient’s immune system to attack tumours. 

The researcher involved testing a drug known as durvalumab alongside tremelimumab in lung patients with so-called cancer PD-L1 negative tumours. By combining both drugs, researchers found that tumours were 29 per cent more responsive to treatment, in comparison to 5 per cent when given one drug. 

Additional reporting by Press Association

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