Cancer tumour genetics paves the way for treatment revolution

What if your body could fight off cancer like it does the common cold? More specifically, what if your immune system could decimate a tumour? A recent breakthrough in research on cancer tumour genetics has opened doors for immunotherapy, a fairly new type of treatment that turns your immune system into a cancer-killing machine. An international team of scientists, led by Charles Swanton in London, found that as a tumour mutates, it carries surface proteins (neoantigens) common to all its cells. They discovered if the immune system focuses on those proteins, it can destroy all cancer cells in the body. The Guardian outlines two approaches to this: 


  1. Take a biopsy from a tumour, scan its DNA to identify which protein is present on all the cancer cells, and make that a target. Immune cells that get trapped inside the tumour are also taken out, multiplied and re-infused into the tumour for Round Two: 

  1. Use the proteins to make a vaccine, that way immune cells can recognize them as a threat and proceed to neutralise them. 


Both treatments are used along with “checkpoint inhibitors,” which essentially stop the tumour from destroying immune cells. That done, all the immune system has to do is seek and destroy.  


Evidence from the study, published in Science, suggests that such treatments are most effective on cancers with lots of mutations, such as lung cancer and melanoma. More research is needed to figure out if these treatments would work with less mutated cancers, like bladder and prostate cancer. One of the downsides to immunotherapy is that it's expensive, so not everyone may have access to it in the future.  


Nevertheless, this treatment “could prove to be a revolutionary way to treat or cure the disease” researchers at Cancer Research UK and University College London told BBC News, with the first trial patients being treated as early as two years from now. 


Due to recent breakthroughs going toward the development of a cancer vaccine (see previous article) and similar treatments, we can hope for a future where chemotherapy is phased out in favour of an alternative that does more good than harm.

Forecasted start year: 
2018 to 2025


Load comments