T-Cell Therapy: Innovating our Immune System
It seems like everyday, we hear about something new being disrupted: Tesla disrupting the battery, Udacity disrupting education, and WeWork disrupting, well, work. But there’s one thing that isn’t being disrupted nearly enough: the human body.
This is literally the only area of innovation that affects every human being alive, and every human being to come. Our immune system is our main defence mechanism against infectious diseases and cancers, which are the 2nd and 3rd leading causes of death worldwide, respectively. That means that disrupting the immune system will lead not only to a longer lifespan, but a longer health span.
But how do we do that? T-Cell Therapy.
Alright, let’s get technical. T-cells are immune cells found in the bloodstream, and there are three main types:
- Helper T-Cells
These helper cells detect the malignant cells. By latching on to another cell and scanning its receptors, this t-cell can determine what kind of cell it has found. If that cells is malignant, such as a cancer cell, then the helper releases a chemical called cytokine.
2. Killer T-Cells
These cells are ‘activated’ when they detect the cytokine from the helpers. Killer T-cells latch onto the cancerous cell, similarly to the helper, and injects it with a poison in an attempt to kill it.
3. Regulatory T-Cells
Regulatory T-cells are activated at the same time as the killer cells, and help to focus the attack on only malignant cells, leaving the rest of the environment unharmed. The are also responsible for ‘deactivating’ the killer cells once the threat has been dealt with.
This sounds awesome, does that mean that t-cells will cure cancer forever? Well, not exactly. There are already millions of T-cells within each one of us, they’re just not that great at what they do. Cancers have developed a way of mutating themselves so that they no longer look like malignant cells to the helpers.
This is where CAR T-Cell Therapy comes in clutch. Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) Therapy modifies the T-cells’ recpetors so that they can detect even the mutated cancer cells. And what’s awesome about this treatment is that you only have to do it once. All small sample of your blood is drawn, and using CRISPR technology the CAR inducing DNA is inserted into your T-cells. This sample is re-intorduced into your bloodstream, and because CAR T-cells replicate more quickly then normal T-cells, they take over. For now though, CAR T-cells are only effective at attacking blood borne cancers, like leukemia.
The results of CAR T-Cell Therapy are astounding. Novartis developed a treatment with this technology, and in the initial clinical trial, 27/30 patients treated were completely cured of their cancer! This is huge compared to the 5/30 rate of survival for cancer patients at a similar stage.
There are, however a few setbacks. One study found that some of those treated experienced mild brain swelling, causing some damage to neural connections. Also, Novartis’ treatment currently costs $475 000. But they are so confident that their treatment works that they are offering a full refund to patients who aren’t cured.
CAR T-Cell Therapy has the potential to become one of the most revolutionary technologies of the 21st century, but there is still a lot of innovation to be done. Further development could lead to modified T-Cells being able to attack other solid-tumour cancers, exponentially increasing its market potential.
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