Leukemia Finding Could Key for Future Lymphoma Treatments

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According to researchers, a radical new form of immune therapy has unexpectedly helped a small group of patients with advanced, difficult-to-treat leukemia.

In an effort to treat lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) which had not responded to any other therapies, scientists developed a genetically modified version of the patients’ own T cells (immune cells) and injected them into three patients to specifically target the CLL cells. A year later, the patients are now in remission.

In essence, researchers successfully used gene transfer therapy to kill cancer cells precisely in the manner they were hoping for. This could mean big things down the line for lymphoma, ovarian cancer and lung tumors.

"This approach to adaptive therapy with T cells is different and better [than previous immunotherapy attempts] because the cells are long-lived once they're transferred and active over a period of time," said William Chambers, director of the Clinical Cancer Research and Immunology Program at the American Cancer Society. "And it seems that a small number of them actually have a big impact," he noted. "This is going to prove useful and important."

"This turned every genetically modified T cell into a tumor-seeking missile," explained Bruce Levine, co-author of both papers and associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

"The results were quite striking considering that each of these patients had been undergoing the best conventional medicine could give," said Levine. "When you look at the responses these patients achieved and the time frame in which they achieved them, it's extraordinarily remarkable."

The researchers presented their findings Aug. 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine.

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