From designer bags, designer babies, to designer immune system?
Cancer! And no I am not talking about the horoscope, but instead one of the deadliest and feared of immune diseases in this world. One of the most common question asked about cancer would probably be whether there is already a cure for cancer? Cancer research has been around for decades, with medical professionals from around the world collaborating to find a way to fight against this deadly disease. But why is there no cure yet, you might ask? More importantly, will there ever be a cure?? Over the years, various therapeutic measures have been developed to at least slow down cancer progression or prolong the life of the patient.
Therapies such as chemotherapy, pharmaceutical drugs, and surgery are currently used to treat cancer for patients of all ages. However, some cancers still persist against these preventative measures and this makes it difficult for clinicians and researchers to come up with new ways of treatment. The thing about cancer that isolates it from bacterial and viral diseases is that our immune system cannot fight against cancer. It is designed to destroy infected cells, not cancerous cells.
So why not just engineer our immune cells to target cancer? Imagine genetically manipulating our immune system for its ability to specifically attack cancer cells. Sounds almost like giving our immune cells superpowers to fight against cancer! Why yes indeed this research into immunotherapy has been going on for a while now. Researchers have developed a way to harness our body’s T cells, and genetically modify them to specifically target cancer cells. T cells are a living drug, and play a huge role in protecting our body by hunting down and destroying infected cells. T cells differ from one another depending on the receptors that surround it. There is a huge diversity of T cell receptors depending on the specific antigen it targets. If T cells have receptors specifically targeting against a particular antigen, why not modify this receptor into targeting cancerous cells in our body?
T cell receptors, also known as antigen receptors, are indeed able to be genetically modified to alter its specificity towards a target. It may as well be approached as a ‘designer immune system’ to kill cancer. Current research on immunotherapy and antigen receptor modification is largely focused on blood cancer, widely known as leukaemia. Clinical trials have been conducted and it was found that the patients that were unresponsive to the conventional cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, miraculously responded to the T cell therapy instead. Additionally, these patients have since been cleared of their cancer and are still living a healthy life!
Although this seen to be a success, this mode of therapy is still needed to be perfected and finalized before it develops to become the next conventional method of fighting against cancer.