Scientist are working hard on finding better ways to treat cancer. After all it is one of the leading causes of death in developed nations. With some much focus on these terrible conditions, new treatments are often celebrated before becoming fully vetted and tested.
This may or may not be the case with this new personalized immunotherapy treatment. Being hailed as “revolutionary,” scientist are reporting “unprecedented” success. This immunotherapy treatment uses the patient’s own cells into cancer seeking and killing machines. One trial showed a 94 percent remission rate on patients they had previously had chemotherapy fail them.
Just announced at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, this treatment manipulates T cells. T cells natural function in the body is to seek out threats like bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells and destroy them. Often times in patients with chronic diseases, their activity diminishes and simply are not capable of keeping up against a rapidly growing tumor on their own.
Through genetic engineering, scientist are harnesses the natural power of these cells to specifically target tumors. Stanley Riddell of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and his team engineered T cells to make a receptor that recognizes a molecule called CD19. CD19 appears in white blood cells called B cells. This gives the T cells the ability to seek and destroy certain cancers like lymphomas and leukemias.
To achieve this, the patient’s T cells are removed, the gene for the synthetic receptor is added in and in two weeks the cells are reinfused back into the patient.
Results thus far have been encouraging although only in small trials. Perhaps the most impressive was a group of 35 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, 94 percent of them went into remission. Another small study of 40 patients with lymphoma proved that more than 50% of them had their cancer symptoms disappear. All of these patients had failed previous treatments and were given only months to live.
However it is not a perfect treatment, some patients did experience severe side-effects, such as neurological problems and decreases in blood pressure. It is still unclear how long these patients will stay cancer free so longer follow-up studies are needed to determine this treatments lasting effects. This genetic engineering of T cells is theoretically possible for wide range of cancers hopefully leading to an effective treatment.