March 5, 2016 4:10 pm

Cancer’s ‘Achilles heel’ potentially found by team of international researchers


An international team of researchers in London, England, say they may have found cancer’s “Achilles heel.”

The research, completed at University College London (UCL) and published in the journal Science, shows that every patient’s cancer has a unique biological “flag” that can be targeted, and eliminated by a patient’s own immune system.

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That means a unique vaccine – made using the patient’s own proteins from their tumours – could be created to fight a patient’s cancer.

Study co-author Charles Swanton from the UCL Cancer Institute called the discovery exciting.

“This opens up a way to look at individual patients’ tumours and profile all the antigen variations to figure out the best ways for immunotherapy treatments to work,” he explained to the BBC.

Immunotherapy treatments have largely flopped, reports the BBC, because cancerous tumours are made up of mutated cells that can look and behave differently.

But the researchers have found there is a distinct marking that can be found in all cancerous cells in a patient.

“This is exciting. Now we can prioritise and target tumour antigens that are present in every cell – the Achilles heel of these highly complex cancers,” Swanton said.

“This is really fascinating and takes personalised medicine to its absolute limit.”

Research still in early phase

The research is still in its early phases and has not been tested on a patient yet.

James Gallagher, health editor of the BBC website, has warned people about getting too excited over the new discovery.

“This study demonstrates some spectacular science that furthers understanding of how the immune system and cancer interact,” he writes.

“But this new knowledge has not been used to treat a single patient. There have not even been animal studies. So there is a real risk it will not work.”

The treatment would also be very expensive, since each vaccine would need to be made-to-order, but that shouldn’t deter patients, Swanton explained.

“Cancer care is already incredibly expensive. And what if you balance it against getting a patient back into the workplace in their mid-40s? I would hope we can do this in a very cost-effective way.”

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