Irish team's breakthrough in fight to beat deadly cancer
Patients with a form of cancer which has a poor outlook have been given new hope of a potential treatment breakthrough thanks to Irish researchers.
The work by the Trinity College team on oesophageal cancer has found a cell which could ultimately help patients with the disease to use their own immune systems to fight the disease.
Principal investigator Dr Margaret Dunne said: "Oesophageal cancer rates are rising in Ireland, and improved treatment strategies are urgently needed.
"By revealing how lesser-studied immune cells work in cancer, we can better understand the shortcomings of current immunotherapies and investigate new ways to boost the anti-cancer immune response."
Oesophageal cancer currently has a poor prognosis, and the five-year survival rate is typically less than 15pc.
It is linked to obesity and is one of the fastest growing cancers in the Western world.
The incidence is due to double in Ireland within the next few decades.
New treatment options are needed, as existing therapies only work well for a minority of sufferers.
Several cancers have already benefited from immunotherapy.
The treatment is where drugs coax the immune system into attacking cancerous cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
So far, immunotherapy has not been successful in tackling oesophageal cancer.
But the Trinity researchers hope the answers might lie outside conventional types of immune cells. They are looking at unconventional immune cells.
The discovery of a particular type of T cell, known as a MAIT cell, is a step forward.
MAIT cells are known to protect against bacterial infections. But little is known about what they do to cancer.
The findings, published in the international journal 'Frontiers in Immunology', may have the potential to help in the development of new treatments for the disease.
Dr Dunne said: "Immunotherapies have revolutionised cancer treatment but still only work for a minority of people.
"A more in-depth understanding of underlying biology will be critical to unravel why this is."