A Maltese scientist, Dr Joanna Black, who led a group of researchers between March 1995 and October 2004 working on an idea to help cancer patients fight the disease using their own immune system is now back in the news after her decade old research work is now leading groundbreaking cancer treatment.
The new kind of medicines, which reprogram the patient’s cells and then inject it into their body has been approved in the US and is now being introduced by the UK’s National Health Service. Simon Stevens, Chief of the NHS, described this method of treatment as one of the most innovative offered to them.
The treatment, which is known as CAR-T cell therapy, begins by extraction of T cells from the patient’s body. These cells are responsible for fighting the pathogens in the body but sometimes fail to recognize some advanced cancers.
These cells are modified in the lab while the patient undergoes chemotherapy. The newly-modified cells are then inserted onto the patient’s body by transfusing the blood. These modified cells fight the cancerous cells and help in killing them.
“When i first had the idea with my seniors they didn’t understand how immunotherapy would work given the fact the cancer dampens down the immune system to the point we stop making the right immune molecules for our defences,” Dr Joanna Black told Newsbook.
According to Dr Black, her team of researchers had collected enough data by the year 2002 to apply to the government for starting human trials and finally got the permission for the same. However, the high price of the treatment made it ‘impossible’ to implement.
In 2004, after the birth of her son, Dr Black chose a new career path but her idea spread to other laboratories and gradually kept growing. “I feel very proud of this milestone because I recognised the importance of the immune system and braved my way through getting funding way back then,” Dr Black added.
With this, Malta can boast of making a big contribution to cancer research and helping in starting new ways of fighting the deadly disease. However, there is still a long way to go but we can expect CAR-T therapy to grow further and help people across the world.