The research shows that it could treat all kinds of tumours, and opens up the prospect of immunotherapy treatments helping many more cancer patients in the future.
In theory cancer can be tackled by elements of the body's own immune defences, especially white blood cells called T-cells.
But in practice, T-cells that target and kill cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells are very rare, and progress towards immune-based cancer treatments has been limited.
The new approach provides a way to reprogramme T-cells and create large numbers of them "off the shelf" primed to attack specific cancers.
A small number of healthy human T-cells were first reprogrammed into malleable stem cells with embryonic properties, US scientists reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
These induced pluripotent stem cells (iPScs) were then engineered to produce a tumour-specific receptor molecule on their surfaces.
Finally, the stem cells were coaxed to re-acquire their original T-cell properties while expanding to large numbers.
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Each of the T-cells now had the all-important receptor that allowed it to target a particular cancer "antigen" or protein, in this case lymphoma.
Injected into mice with a human form of lymphoma, the lab-grown T-cells significantly suppressed tumour growth and increased survival.
The researchers, led by Dr Michel Sadelain from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York City, wrote: "In summary, the combination of.. technologies that we describe here offers a potential new source of off-the-shelf T-cells of pre-determined antigen specificity.
"Considering the versatility of pluripotent stem cells.. this system may facilitate production of different T-cell sub-populations with additional genetic modifications and specificities for a range of therapeutic indications."