Research team led by Dr. Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania has made a breakthrough with leukemia treatment. Dr. June hopes that the new treatment procedure would replace bone marrow transplantation, a last resort of treatment for patients with leukemia. Dr. June is quoted in the New York Times,
Our goal is to have a cure, but we can’t say that word.
The results of the research were presented at the American Society Hematology meeting in Atlanta.
Emma Whitehead, 7 year old, a leukemia patient opted for the experimental treatment which saved her life. For Emma the new treatment was her last hope and she almost did not survive, but she woke up a week later post a grueling episode of severe immune reactions, to complete remission of her cancer. The experiment involved reprogramming of Emma’s immune system using avirulent forms of AIDS virus to genetically kill her cancer cells.
Emma almost lost her life to the treatment, but she emerged from it, free from her leukemia! Seven months post her treatment and she is still in complete remission!
She is the first child in which the treatment was tried and is the first human being in whom the new technique has empowered the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer from within, achieving a long-sought goal.
The experimental treatment developed at the University of Pennsylvania has been tried in others too.
- Three adults suffering from chronic leukemia are in complete remission.
- And, two of them have been so for over 2 years.
- Four adults had only partial remission.
- One child showed improvement with treatment but relapsed.
- Two adults showed no improvement with the treatment.
In spite of the mixed results, the new technique shows tremendous promise.
What is this new leukemia treatment about?
The new treatment involves empowering your immune system to fight against its own cancerous cells.
- Doctors take out patient’s T-Cells (this is a type of white blood cells)
- The genetic makeup of the T cells is changed by inserting new genes into it.
- The new genes are inserted using disabled HIV.
- The new T-cells can kill cancer cells.
- Altered T-cells are inserted back into the patient via intravenous route.
- They multiply in the body.
- These T-cells begin to kill cancer cells and also attacks B-cells which have become malignant in cases with leukemia.
- The T-cells indentifies cancerous B-cells by the CD-19 found on its surface.
- The patient experiences a cytokine storm, and become terribly ill with chills and fevers, a result of the immune system.
- However, once body fights the cancer, it stabilizes to emerge free of cancer cells.
Studies similar to Dr. June’s are being conducted at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and National Cancer Institute.
Image courtesy: New York Times