Coronavirus may have a silver lining, according to a study by a scientist at Dalhousie University. Dr. Shashi Gujar, with the department of pathology at Dal, along with colleagues in the United States, Denmark, France, Germany, and India, is studying if the immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could be repurposed to fight cancer using the immune system, a news release on the Dalhousie University website stated.
The body’s immune system detects foreign viruses and bacteria as threats but it does not do this to cancer, the release stated. Dr. Gujar explored if viruses like coronavirus can play a role as the next generation of cancer immunotherapy, according to his published report in the journal OncoImmunology
“We’ve figured out how to trick your coronavirus-specific T cells to think that your cancer is infected by the virus,” Dr. Gujar said in the release. “The key is to do this without using the virus or actually causing the real infection.”
The release explained that when a person contracts SARS-CoV-2, the immune system recognizes the virus and “T cells” activate and act in a specific manner to kill only cells harboring the virus, the release explained.
Vaccines currently being tested worldwide have demonstrated a similar ability to trigger these coronavirus-specific T cells, the report stated.
Experts have explained to Fox News that T cells have “memory cells” that are retained in the body after a person fights an infection. “The immune system remembers what it learned about how to protect the body against that disease,” the CDC website states. The “memory cells” will act as an alarm and help the immune system identify and produce antibodies to attack the foreign virus or other germs if it enters the body again, according to the federal health agency.
The authors said in the study release that coronavirus-specific T cells can search for the SARs-CoV-2 virus in the body, and destroy regions where the virus replicates and help the body recover from a COVID-19 infection.
The team of scientists are trying to get the T cells to attack the tumors by getting the cancer cells to express the same identifying markers as coronavirus-virus harboring cells, and thereby becoming targets of the coronavirus fighting T-cells, the release explained.
“Once we know it works, this immunotherapy will actually be a straightforward process and may be something we’ll be able to start using on patients sooner rather than later. This is a highly novel and practical strategy to harness virus-specific T cells against various types of cancers. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
The coronavirus-specific cells can potentially be found in millions of people globally due to infection or a vaccine, making this type of cancer immunotherapy useful for a worldwide population, the release said.
The release also said the international group of scientists alongside Dr. Gujar are currently testing coronavirus-specific tags that occur in different populations. They then plan to make a “cocktail of these tags” to treat cancer in clinics throughout the world.