• Question: Could white blood cells be 'trained' to kill bad cells within the human body to stop cancer

    Asked by 08obrient to Amy on 10 Jun 2011. This question was also asked by rachelbowesxx, emilyjordan, lewisthirsk.
    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 10 Jun 2011:

      First off, this is a brilliant question! 😀
      You are already totally thinking like a scientist by trying to work out solutions to problems!

      And the short answer is “yes, it is possible” if by “train” you mean alert them to what’s going on in the person and get them to kill the cancer there.

      There’s a new drug in cancer trials at the moment which has had a bit of news coverage (did you hear about it on TV and that made you ask the question?). It’s called Ipilimumab and it has just been approved in the treatment of malignant melanoma (skin cancer that has moved to different parts of the body) in the USA. It is showing promising effects!

      Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody against a protein in human cells called CTLA-4.

      So what does that mean?

      Well, antibodies are small molecules that stick to things they recognise. There are lots of different sorts and they are “specific” – so they only stick to the one thing they recognise (like if you had an antibody that stuck to pink smarties it wouldn’t stick to the green ones).

      CTLA-4 is sort of like the “brake” on a car – but in a T cell (a white blood cell). This brake normally stops the cell from over-reacting to something and killing stuff it shouldn’t. Ipilimumab (the antibody) sticks under this brake pedal and stops it from working so that the T cell just zooms on and does its stuff i.e. kills the cancer.

      I don’t want to bore you by going on and on with my answer but this gives us some more things to think about…like why is the brake on in the first place in these cells that are able to kill the cancer? and why can’t we cure everyone with cancer?

      If you want to chat about it more just message me back!

      Have a fantastic day,

      Amy 😀