In exciting news from the University of Pennsylvania, the Associated Press is reporting breakthrough treatment in leukemia. While the study was extremely small with only three patients participating, the results have been astounding. Experts are calling the news revolutionary.
Researchers reprogrammed three patients’ blood cells to search and destroy the leukemia-causing cells in their body. So far, two have been cancer-free for a year while the third has made dramatic improvements but still harbors cancer cells.
Each of the all male patients were diagnosed with advanced cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. One 50-year-old man had endured chemotherapy for 15 years prior to the study, and is now cancer-free.
Initially, T-cells were removed from blood taken from the men. Then the cells were genetically reprogrammed to find and destroy leukemia cells, and injected back into the body to begin their mission. The T-cells were found to kill the long existing cancer cells and also obliterate newly formed cells.
The drawback with the method (which researchers are still working on) is that while the T-cells destroy cancer cells, they also destroy healthy cells. More research has to be done to balance out the risk.
Still, the news is especially significant because treatments discovered in the battle against blood cancer often contribute to the advancements in the other cancers. “Most cancer discoveries are made with blood cancer research because it is easier to study blood cancers than it is in solid tumors,” explains Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Director Beth Mihmet.
ABC News reports that although the standardized T-cell treatment may be years off due to financial and staffing constraints of conducting the detailed experiments, doctors are hopeful and excited:
“This study is probably the most clear-cut, well-studied and best-described of cases,” said Dr. Renier J Brentjens, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who specializes in treating acute and chronic leukemia through immunology. “It’s very clear here that T-cells are responsible for this effect, and the effect is sustained. This is very exciting, and I hope and pray that immunotherapy will one day replace the more toxic chemotherapy for treatment in cancer patients.”