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Immune System Transplants Could Become the Next Step for Cancer Treatments

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK’s premier medical research facility, are investigating a groundbreaking new approach that might save millions of lives in the future. The method is based on strengthening the body's defenses by transplanting immune cells from strangers. Professor Adrian Hayday, group leader of the Immunosurveillance Lab at The Crick [...]

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK’s premier medical research facility, are investigating a groundbreaking new approach that might save millions of lives in the future. The method is based on strengthening the body’s defenses by transplanting immune cells from strangers.

Professor Adrian Hayday, group leader of the Immunosurveillance Lab at The Crick is encouraged by the results seen from a test with natural killer cells. These are a type of cytotoxic lymphocyte, a subgroup of blood cells, which provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and other threats, including tumor formation.

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Until recently, importing a stranger’s immune cells was thought to be impossible, as the immunosuppressant drugs needed to ensure the body did not reject them, would cancel out the benefits. Now, scientists realized that immune cells are just like any other cells, and can survive well in another person, opening the door to transplants.

This could be an “elegant” approach, boosting the patient’s natural defenses in order to detect and eliminate the mutated cells on its own, and it would also prevent unnecessarily heavy chemotherapy sessions. As Dr. Hayday mentioned himself, medical professionals are becoming more like engineers, upgrading and improving the body.

Clinical trials are expected to start in 2019 and continue over in 2020. Even though these are just the initial stages of the project, it is exciting to see where the research will lead. By combining this with advances made to genetic sequencing of tumors, patients could quickly and reliably take advantage of tailor made treatments.

Over 30 years ago, only one in four patients would have survived more than 10 years. Innovations in medicine have raised the percentage to 50%. Now, the British team want to get it even higher, at 75%.

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