Cancer Cure on the Horizon? Promising New Therapy Destroys Cancer by Turning Blood Cells Into ‘Assassins’
How does it work? According to experts, the treatment is a gene therapy that turns a patient’s own blood cells into assassins that tracks down and destroys cancer cells.
They’ve only tested it in three patients so far, but the results were noteworthy. Two patients appear cancer-free a year after treatment, and the third patient still has some cancer but is improved.
‘It worked great,’ said study author Dr. Carl June, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘We were surprised it worked as well as it did.’
Currently, the only hope for a cure is bone marrow or stem cell transplants, which don’t always work and can be fatal.
Scientists have been trying for years to find ways to boost the immune system’s cancer-fighting ability. Earlier attempts at genetically modifying T-cells, our ‘bloodstream soldiers,’ have had limited success -the modified cells didn’t reproduce well and quickly vanished.
June and his colleagues used a new technique to deliver the new genes into the T-cells with a signal that tells the cells to kill and multiply. That resulted in armies of “serial killer” cells that targeted and destroyed cancer cells, even new cancer cells as they emerged. T-cells typically attack viruses that way, but June says this is the first time it’s been done against cancer.
For the study – published in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ and ‘Science Translational Medicine’ – scientists took blood from three patients with very advanced cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and genetically altered it in a lab. Then the scientists returned the blood cells to the patients in three infusions.
The scientists detailed the experience of one 64-year-old patient. There was no change for two weeks, but then he became ill with fever, nausea, and chills. He and the other two patients were hit with this condition that occurs when a lot of cancer cells die at the same time – a sign that the gene therapy is working.
‘It was like the worse flu of their life,’ June said. ‘But after that, it’s over – they’re well.’” Read more.