Could new cancer research hold the key to a cure?
One of this week's most exciting media stories was the spectacular success scientists are experiencing with engineering immune T-cells to target a particular type of blood #cancer. To administer #T-cell-therapy, doctors remove #immune cells from the patient, tag them with “receptor” molecules that target a specific cancer and then infuse the cells back into the body. In effect, they are successfully programming a patient's own immune system to attack cancers in the same way as other T-cells target flu or other infections.
This breakthrough research is obviously very encouraging for everyone, given that cancer is still a leading cause of death worldwide, with one in two people born after 1960 (in the UK) being diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.
But for those of us with vitiligo or other autoimmune conditions, the research may have additional benefits, since the greater the advances in T-cell therapy the more likely it becomes that it could be used to reprogramme our immune system to prevent it from attacking healthy cells – i.e. melanocytes, in the case of autoimmune vitiligo.
An interesting paper - Targeting Antigen-Specific T Cells for Gene Therapy of Autoimmune Disease - describes previous research aimed at achieving exactly this aim. Not only have scientists been working on reprogramming T-cells to correct autoimmunity but they are also trying to use them to deliver therapeutic and regenerative products to sites of inflammation and tissue destruction. So it seems that there is in fact more than one way in which this particular kind of gene therapy could use the body's own immune system to counteract, or even cure, diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis and vitiligo.
When I read about this latest cancer research, one particular comment made by Lead researcher Professor Chiara Bonini jumped out at me. He said:
“T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives.”
If this potential becomes reality, not only could it make the scourge of cancer a thing of the past but it could also provide a permanent solution to autoimmunity, making the onerous, unpleasant and often ineffective treatments and lifestyle changes currently used to combat such conditions unnecessary.
From a personal perspective, I am very grateful that I have been able to reverse my pigment loss and keep my vitiligo at bay on an ongoing basis. I know that many vitiligo sufferers are not as fortunate. But my continued success does depend on ongoing nutritional supplementation and careful avoidance of known vitiligo triggers. How wonderful it would be to live life as if vitiligo (and so many other diseases) simply did not exist … because they had finally been beaten. We are not there yet, but the news this week does appear to have brought us a significant step closer!
My name is Caroline.