U.S. researchers have made an amazing breakthrough in cancer research. They have modified patients' immune systems to attack cancer cells of the blood (leukemia). Modified T-cells are turned into serial killers and are genetically programmed to attack cancer cells. Three chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients with no hope to live and all options run out, participated in this study at the University of Pennsylvania where researchers engineered their T lymphocytes to attack cancerous B cells.
Carl June, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the school’s Abramson Cancer Center, was the main lead author. “The actual trial exceeded our wildest outcome and imagination actually," says Carl June, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, who was the study’s lead author, "because what we found is all three patients have had a remarkable anti-tumor response and that literally pounds of leukemia have been eradicated in all three patients.”
Two of the three CLL patients had a complete remission of their disease and there was a significant improvement in the third.
The T cells were genetically modified using a harmless virus, which carried an anti-body called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). The CAR was binded to another protein called CD19 that’s present on the surface of normal B lymphocytes and all CLL tumor cells.
Michael Kalos, one of the researchers, also mentioned that they bound a signaling molecule that binds to CD19 that would continue production of thousands of T cells that would act against future cancerous B cells should it return.
“We saw a substantial number of cells remaining circulating and in the marrow of patients very, very late after infusion, nine to 12 months, entirely unprecedented in the field," says Kalos. "And finally we saw that those cells, not only did they remain there, but they were able to be triggered, recognize and kill cancer cells when they encountered them again.”
The study can be found in the New England Journal of Medicine.