As soon as cancer was discovered, scientists have been looking for a way to cure it – an unsuccessful mission so far. The cancer treatments usually offered have awful side effects on the patients’ health condition. The aim of cancer treatments is to stop the growth, or discover a new treatment which will kill cancer cells completely. The common treatments destroy healthy tissue besides the cancerous one, and the main goal of many studies is to transform the cancer cells into antibodies which will attack other malignant cells, killing each other in the process.

Now, scientists from the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) published a new study on a new powerful therapy which can replace present therapies. The team consists of Richard A. Lerner, a professor at the Institute, Lita Annenberg Hazen, a professor of Immunochemistry at TSRI, Kyungmoo Yea, an assistant professor of cellular and molecular biology also at the TSRI, and their colleagues. They performed tests on acute myeloid leukemia cells from humans and tested 20 of the recently found receptor-activating antibodies in the cancer cells.

The tests aimed to find antibodies which can trigger the growth-factor receptors on immature bone marrow cells, or in simpler terms, they searched for antibodies that will make these cells grow into specific blood cell types. Accidentally, they found some unusual side effects of the antibodies during their work. Some of the antibodies that were found as activators of bone marrow cell-receptors had a surprising effect on other cells. They transformed in neural cells, and the team suspected that this method can be used for transforming the cancerous bone marrow cells into healthy cells. If these antibodies were to be injected in acute myeloid leukemia cells, they would transform them into dendritic cells, which are important to the immune system!

This fact is as amazing success for cancer research. The team also found that the dendritic cells mature more if the antibodies were acting for a longer period. A group of cells similar to natural killer (NK) cells was eventually formed. These cells protect the immune system and attack potentially dangerous cells, tumors and pathogens. “That antibody could have turned those acute myeloid leukemia cells into a lot of other cell types, but somehow we were lucky enough to get NK cells,” stated Lerner.

These NK cells were observed and it was found that they possessed unique abilities. They contain tendrils that found their way through the outer membranes of nearby leukemia cells – cells that would be there even if the antibody was not inserted. The study showed amazing results: the NK cells killed their former associates, and a small number of NK cells killed 15% of nearby leukemia cells in just 24 hours. The fratricidal nature of NK cells was noted, but they didn’t attack unrelated breast cancer cells as was in the case of leukemia cells.

The reason for this is still not discovered, but there is a chance that undiscovered antibodies will transform cancerous cells into NK cells.

Lerner named the therapy “fratricidins”, and he says it has many advantages over present ones. The antibodies are more beneficial and safer than conventional treatments, and they reduce the chances of healthy cells being destroyed.

In theory, every cancer cell can be transformed, but the main goal is complete eradication of cancer cells, not just their reduction.