A breakthrough involving a once-underestimated group of cells is showing promise in improving a type of immunotherapy used to treat blood cancers.
Already being widely tested in clinical trials, T cell engaging bispecific therapy has shown great treatment potential by "acting like a missile control system".
Essentially, it guides the body's own T cells to attack and eliminate blood cancer cells, researchers say.
Now a new discovery has found that a much less common type of cell, known as iNKT cells, "is like the key that turns on the missile control system".
The finding is a big step forward in the battle against blood cancers, says Kyohei Nakamura, an immunologist at Brisbane's QIMR Berghofer Research Institute.
"Until now, iNKT cells have been underestimated," Dr Nakamura said.
"Our research for the first time shows how important these iNKT cells are and their critical role in boosting the efficacy of the T cell engaging bispecific therapy."
It is estimated 53 Australians are diagnosed with blood cancer every day.
Combined, the category is the second most diagnosed cancer in the country, according to the Leukaemia Foundation.
The research involved collaboration with haematologist Simon Harrison, director of the Centre of Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
"T cell engaging bispecific therapy is an off-the-shelf way that we can direct a patient's own immune system to kill myeloma and other cancer cells," Professor Harrison said.
"This research increases our fundamental understanding of how (the) therapy works and gives us a potential path to increase its effectiveness."