Cancer patients could be treated with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ therapy, following the discovery of an immune cell which kills all forms of the disease.

Researchers at Cardiff University have found a new type of killer T-cell, capable of recognising and destroying most human cancers while preserving healthy cells. The scientists discovered a method of killing prostate, breast, lung and other cancers in lab tests and say there is ‘enormous potential’ for immunotherapies not previously thought to be possible. 

Cardiff University’s cancer findings came from scientists looking for ‘unconventional’ ways in which the immune system naturally attacks tumours. They found, inside human blood, a T-cell that can scan the body for a threat, such as cancerous cells, and eliminate the danger while leaving healthy cells alone. The team described the work as at an early stage, but ‘exciting’.

T-cell cancer therapies are where immune cells are removed, modified and returned to the patient’s blood to seek and destroy cancer cells. The most widely-used, known as CAR-T, is personalised to the patient but combats only a handful of cancers and has not been successful in eliminating solid tumours - which account for the vast majority of cancers.

The Cardiff team’s discovery involves a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR), which recognises a molecule present on the surface of a wide range of cancer cells as well as in many of the body’s normal cells and is, remarkably, able to distinguish between the two. In tests, T-cells equipped with the new TCR killed lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells.

Professor Andrew Sewell, the lead author on the study and an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said it was ‘highly unusual’ to find a TCR with such broad cancer specificity, raising the prospect of ‘universal’ cancer therapy.

Prof Sewell said: “We hope this new TCR may provide us with a different route to target and destroy a wide range of cancers in all individuals. Current TCR-based therapies can only be used in a minority of patients with a minority of cancers.

“Cancer-targeting via MR1-restricted T-cells is an exciting new frontier - it raises the prospect of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cancer treatment; a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population. Previously nobody believed this could be possible.”

Further experiments and safety testing are now underway, with the hope of trialling this new approach in patients towards the end of 2020. Prof Sewell added: “There are plenty of hurdles to overcome; however, if this testing is successful, then I would hope this new treatment could be in use in patients in a few years’ time.”

Cancer is the leading cause of all avoidable deaths in the UK. Breast cancer is the most common, followed jointly by prostate and lung cancer and then by bowel cancer. Obesity is now a bigger cause than smoking of some cancers, namely bowel, kidney, liver and ovarian cancer.

According to financial information business Defaqto*, 38 out of 51 health insurance products include cancer cover, with benefits ranging from breakthrough treatment not otherwise available on the NHS to hormone therapy, reconstructive surgery and stem cell therapy. To find the right cancer cover for your family, use our online comparison tool or speak with our team on 0800 862 0373.


Photo: Cardiff University’s Professor Andrew Sewell, left, with Research Fellow Garry Dolton.

Credit: Cardiff University


* Data sourced on January 2, 2020.