LONDON – On Thursday, scientists at Imperial College London announced that they had identified a potential “game changer” in cancer research. According to a paper which was published in the journal Science, the team has isolated a protein which “turbo charges” the immune system, allowing it to fight off cancers or viruses.
The U.K.-based newspaper The Telegraph reports that the previously unknown protein, called lymphocyte expansion molecule, or LEM, promotes the spread of cancer killing “T cells” by generating large amounts of energy. LEMs assist the body’s ability to fight illnesses, and scientists hope they can develop a gene therapy regime which will lead to human trials within in three years.
Professor Philip Ashton-Rickardt of the Immunobiology Section of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College led the study.
On the breakthrough, Professor Ashton-Rickardt explains:
“This is exciting because we have found a completely different way to use the immune system to fight cancer. It could be a game-changer for treating a number of different cancers and viruses. This is a completely unknown protein. Nobody had ever seen it before or was even aware that it existed. It looks and acts like no other protein.”
Based on initial studies, the newly discovered protein creates such a massive energy boost that they simply overwhelm cancer cells. This energy boost also helps boost “immune memory cells,” which will recognize similar cancer cells, thus reducing the possibility of relapse.
The discovery was made while observing genetic mutations in mice, and the team found that one type of LEM can produce as much as ten times the normal number of cancer fighting cells.
According to Dr. Mike Turner, the Head of Infection and Immunobiology at The Wellcome Trust, “the discovery of a protein that could boost the immune response to not only cancer, but also to viruses, is a fascinating one.” Dr. Alan Worsley, Senior Science Information Officer at Cancer Research U.K. noted, “this exciting work in mice is still at an early stage and only looked at one type of cancer.”
Researchers concede that they have much more research to complete before they can successfully launch a solution that will revolutionize cancer treatment. However, if successful, LEM treatment could play a major role in future treatments.
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