News that a new treatment for leukemia is successfully killing cancer cells hit the public this week, exciting all. But the treatment is still in its earliest stages and the news came from a study that was published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” and “Science Translational Medicine.”
According to a CNN blog, the new treatment uses ‘serial killer’ cells that target leukemia and destroy cancer cells.
So far, the therapy has only been tested on three patients but all have seen impressive results. The three patients were all suffering from a common form of the disease, chronic lyphocytic leukemia. After treatment, two of the patients had total remission of leukemia and one had a good response but some cancer cells still remain.
According to CBS, the treatment is a gene therapy that turns a patient’s own blood cells into assassins that track down and destroy cancer cells. All three patients had blood taken by scientists, who genetically altered it, returned the blood cells to the patients and within a few weeks were seeing results.
According to NPR, Carl June and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took blood from the three patients, isolated a kind of immune cell in the blood called a T-cell– the cells can recognize invading organisms but not cancer cells and kill them. The researchers added a gene to the T-cells that would allow them to recognize the cancer cells and destroy them. After modifying the cells, the scientists injected the cells back into the three patients. After a few weeks, scientists discovered that the patient’s amount of cancer cells were decreasing. Ultimately, two patients had their total amount of cancer cells gone within a year and the third patient’s number of cancer cells decreasing.
NPR also reported that the modified cells remained in the blood six months after they were injected into the patients and researchers believe that if the cancer cells come back the modified cells will destroy them.
The WSJ reports that much larger studies are needed to prove that it works but the genetic immunotherapy will be studied in other cancers.