And this is where Diamond comes in. David comments: “That’s the power of the synchrotron. We use it to identify the atomic structure of the target. We can then modify the T-cells and come back to Diamond to see close up the changed reaction between the modified T-cells and their target. Diamond is there the whole way through. Without that you’re just fumbling in the dark. The synchrotron allows you to see what’s really going on so that you can direct what you’re doing to those molecules in the proper way instead of just taking guesses and using trial and error, which is what you would be doing otherwise.”
Based on the research carried out at facilities like Diamond, we’re now closer than ever to seeing T-cell therapy used on patients. In a medical setting, clinicians could take T-cells out of a patient’s body, pinpoint the cancer-effective T-cells, mutate them to create stronger fingers, and then replicate the enhanced, cancer-killing variety before injecting them back into the patient’s body, where they can begin destroying cancerous cells.
This form of cancer therapy has real advantages over existing treatments. Firstly, T-cell treatments are a form of ‘personalised medicine’, which means that they work around the genetic differences between individuals. Because we’re all made slightly differently, existing cancer treatments work better on some people than others. But T-cells are something that we all have in common, and so the results of T-cell therapy would be much more consistent. What’s more, because the T-cells are from the individual’s own immune system, there’s no risk of the body rejecting them.
But there’s another key advantage of T-cell therapy over existing treatments: they are highly targeted to only destroy cancerous cells and nothing else. Existing treatments like chemotherapy destroy large numbers of healthy cells – that’s why patients often lose their hair and experience nausea. With T-cell treatment, there would potentially be no collateral damage to healthy cells and thus no side-effects.
All cancer cells are different and so are the proteins on the outside of them. That means that there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to create different types of highly-effective T-cells for each cancer. But astonishing progress has already been made, and T-cell cancer therapies are already in clinical trials.
“I really believe it’s going to be available in the next 10 years.” David comments. “It’s already happening now. There’s a lot of investment from bio-tech companies in T-cell treatments. We all know how powerful these cells are, and our ability to harness that power is increasing with the research we’re doing at Diamond.”
Cancer is a highly complex group of diseases, and T-cells won’t be a magic bullet, but they are likely to provide robust new options for patients undergoing cancer therapy. There’s still work to be done, but in the meantime, T-cells will continue fending off the nasties that try and invade our bodies every day. So be grateful for these little warriors, going in to battle time after time as they tirelessly fight to keep us safe.