According to the National Cancer Institute In 2018 alone, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people died from the disease. Cancer affects people from all walks of life.
For years, scientists have been developing a cure for cancer; and for years they have struggled to find a specific cure for each patient. Each immune system is different, and some are more feeble than others. Finding a magic cure that can work for any patient is something that has been formidable in its nature. However, creating a specific cure for each individual patient could be within reach. At the Brigham and Women’s hospital they have been doing just that: finding a specifically-oriented cure.
With metastatic and recurrent brain tumors there is seemingly no hope for patients. This form of cancer has always been reckless and effective in its job of attacking the tissue that it envelops. Brain cancer spreads and recurs even post-treatment, but if researchers could find a way to target further cell growth and metastasis, recurrence may not be such a huge issue. This is what scientists have been attempting to procure in recent lab studies.
Cancer cells track each other throughout the body. As the infected cells move, they bring friends of their own kind with them. Researchers have found a new way to program cancer cells to track these packs of moving cells and follow them to affected areas of the body and eventually kill the infected cells.
What researchers have been doing is using pre-engineered tumor cells from the patient and matching them to a patient’s HLA phenotype (basically the immune system’s genome). By utilizing the genome of the patient, this type of treatment will “blend in” in the body and allow for an easy transition into this type of treatment. They then place the pre-engineered and phenotypically-altered cells back into the patient and they then activate the “kill switch”. The “kill switch” then turns the engineered cells into targeted killers. Basically, researchers have been reformatting cancer cells so that they can track and kill their own kind in the body. In research trials this process has been effective in prolonging the life of affected individuals and effectively killing the cancer in its tracks. This type of cancer research could be revolutionary in the treatment and future eradication of the disease.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said corresponding author Khalid Shah MS, PhD, director of the Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics and Imaging (CSTI) in the BWH Department of Neurosurgery and faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). Shah is convinced that his approach to cancer treatment will prove effective on humans after seeing its effectiveness on mice in his lab. Treating cancer has always been a daunting and “far-fetched” idea, but this new form of treatment takes us one step further towards a future elimination of the cancer that we know today. Cancer is a killer, but with developments like this, cancer eradication may be closer than we think.
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