Philadelphia doctors taught a cancer patients own immune cells to become more adept at killing the cancer. This was after chemo, radiation and bone marrow transfer treatments were failing.
Two months later, the patient emerged cancer-free. The personalized cell therapy is still showing complete remission after 6 months.
Twenty-one other young people received the same treatment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and 18 of them went into complete remission — one of them has been disease-free for 20 months. The Penn doctors released their findings this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
In the therapy, doctors first remove the patient’s T-cells, which play a crucial role in the immune system. They then reprogram the cells by transferring in new genes. Once infused back into the body, each modified cell multiplies to 10,000 cells. These “hunter” cells then track down and kill the cancer in a patient’s body.
Essentially, researchers are trying to train Nick’s body to fight off cancer in much the same way our bodies fight off the common cold.
In addition to the pediatric patients, Penn scientists tried the therapy out in 37 adults with leukemia, and 12 went into complete remission. Eight more patients went into partial remission and saw some improvements in their disease.
The treatment does make patients have flulike symptoms for a short period of time — Nick got so sick he ended up in the intensive care unit for a day — but patients are spared some of the more severe and long-lasting side effects of extensive chemotherapy.
Penn will now work with other medical centers to test the therapy in more patients, and they plan to try the therapy out in other types of blood cancers and later in solid tumors.
The reengineered T-cells — the ones that know how to hunt down and attack cancer — are still alive in the patients’ bodies after more than three years.
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“The genetically modified T-cells have survived,” Porter said. “They’re still present and functional and have the ability to protect against recurrence.”
Second, before declaring patients in remission, Penn doctors scoured especially hard for errant leukemia cells.
Traditionally, for the kind of leukemia Nick has, doctors can find one in 1,000 to one in 10,000 cancer cells. But Penn’s technology could find one in 100,000 to one in a million cancer cells, and didn’t find any in Nick or any of the patients who went into complete remission.
One of the best aspects of this new treatment is that it won’t be terribly difficult to reproduce at other medical centers.