The problem with current treatments for cancer is that they come with severe side-effects, so much so that patients choose to avoid the treatments, because there is no guarantee for a lasting cure and because they can even cause other kinds of cancer entirely. Cancer Treatments can cause irreparable harm to the healthy cells surrounding the cancerous ones, deeming the cure “being nearly as bad as the illness”.
New research however by the Scripps Research Institute scientists may have revealed a different route- by sheer accident.
They observed some strange effects of antibodies, while working on therapies for immune cell or blood factor deficiencies proteins used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, on marrow cells.
They were trying to find antibodies that would activate the growth-factor receptors on immature bone marrow cells, resulting in the cells to mature into specific blood cell types.
However, the effect of the antibodies were unexpected; some caused marrow cells to mature into cells that were completely different from blood cells, such as neural cells.
If marrow cells could be converted so radically, they reasoned, perhaps cancerous marrow cells could be converted to non-cancerous ones too.
The researchers tested 20 discovered receptor-activating antibodies on acute myeloid leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow and blood, which if untreated can cause cancers to pop up everywhere else) cells extracted from human subjects.
One of the antibodies worked.
Myeloid leukemia cells often have a specific receptor, known as a thrombopoietin receptor, that responds to the antibody.
When this antibody was used on healthy marrow cells, they changed into blood-platelet-producing cells. When applied to myeloid leukemia cells, they changed into immune system supporting dendritic cells.
Cancerous cells were thus changed into helpful cells… but the research team pressed on and found that exposing the dendritic cells to the antibodies further matured them into Natural Killer cells- the body’s rapid immune defense system which attacks harmful viruses, diseases and even tumors that do not normally get identified as threats by other types of immune cells.