Completely New Way to Treat Childhood Cancer

Acute lymphocytic leukemia responds to immune cells from pediatric patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Scientists have entered a brave new world when it comes to treating childhood leukemia. New therapies now being tested may completely change the way one type of blood cancer is treated in children.

Researchers have successfully used a child’s own immune cells to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) that has returned after a bone marrow transplant.

The small study not only found this approach to be effective, but the side effects weren’t as bad as traditional chemotherapy.

If further study confirms these findings, this therapy may become the standard of care for treating youngsters with this form of blood cancer.

"If your child bleeds or bruises easily, visit the pediatrician."

Daniel W. Lee, MD, assistant clinical investigator in the Pediatric Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, led the team of researchers investigating this novel therapy.

This approach is called “anti-CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy.” T-cells are blood cells that fight off foreign invaders. They are immune system soldiers.

The most common form of childhood cancer, ALL is diagnosed in about 3,000 American children every year. This blood cancer most often shows up in toddlers between the ages of two and three.

Dr. Lee explained that most children are successfully treated for ALL. Unfortunately, the disease often returns. Relapse isn’t good, because the second time around, the cancer is often tougher to beat.

When ALL returns after the child is treated with a bone marrow transplant, the outlook is particularly dim. That’s why this research is so exciting.

For this ongoing study, researchers collected immune cells – the T cells – directly from the patients who had undergone a bone marrow transplant. The cells were manipulated in the lab so they could better attack the cancer cells.

One patient had a complete response – meaning the disease disappeared - and another had a temporary complete response. One child who had lymphoma did not respond.

“Anti-CD19 CAR T-cell therapy using patients’ own immune cells is a completely new way of treating childhood cancer,” Dr. Lee said in a press release announcing the study findings.

He also said that because this so-called "immunotherapy" is different than chemotherapy, there weren't as many toxic side effects.

The authors concluded that while additional study is needed, the therapy appears to be “…a reasonable and potentially effective strategy."

Findings from this research were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2013. Before publication in a peer-reviewed journal, all research is considered preliminary. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
April 4, 2013
Last Updated:
April 6, 2013