The Fight Against Cancer
Written by Anjali Surana
Cancer- the word itself fills an individual up with inevitable dread and terror, as cancer is said to be the disease that successfully kills all its victims without fail, and for all these years has been doing so. But now, with scientific advances, the era of myriad number of deaths due to cancer could decrease with the discovery and slow advancement of the artificial organs that scientists are working towards.
The thymus, is a gland, that is essential to your immune system. T-cells, a type of white blood cell that helps to get rid of viruses, bacterial infections, and cancer cells, mature within this gland. When people get sick (or as they age), the thymus becomes worse at its job. In the natural process inside our bodies, T-cells produced by the thymus are given specialized molecules, called receptors, which act as guides towards cells infected by viruses or cancers.
Scientists have now been able to add cancer-seeking receptors to T-cells, in a process known as adoptive T-cell immunotherapy – an approach that has been very successful so far, even if it’s still in the early stages of testing where T-cells are collected from patients, reprogrammed with the right receptors, then transfused back into the body.
The only problems – which this new research tries to fix – are that the process is time-consuming, and relies on the patient having enough T-cells to make use of in the first place.
That’s where the artificial thymus developed at UCLA comes in, which could pump out cancer-fighting T-cells from stem cells or donated blood more quickly than the existing methods.
Normally, T-cells are made in the thymus through a long and incredibly complex biological process. What the team at UCLA demonstrate is a way of taking human blood stem cells, the same type of cells commonly used in bone marrow transplants, and turning them into fully-functioning T-cells entirely in the lab. This involves putting the blood stem cells into an ‘’artificial thymic organoid’’, a tiny 3D organ-like structure that grows in a dish and instructs blood stem cells to become T-cells.
Although this patented artificial structure will have to go through years of clinical trials before it can be widely adapted by the medical community, and it has not been tested in humans yet, it holds promise as a way to guarantee the creation of healthy cancer-targeted T-cells. The availability of treatment may not depend on a patient’s existing cells that must be removed and engineered. Instead, patients of varying levels of illness could have equal access to treatment — and to hope.
This new development could be one large step towards reducing the costs of cancer treatments. It is no secret that most modern cancer treatments are either extremely costly, dangerous to healthy tissues, not effective enough, or a combination of these. There are many treatments that successfully put patients into remission and allow them to continue on with healthy and fulfilled lives. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement, and this could be one of them.
Edited by Harsh Kumbhat