Breaking Through Cancer?

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia obliterated with new gene therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) "Cure" isn't a word that's used very often in the cancer field. Still, a 20-year-in-the-making breakthrough could make that word more common among oncologists.

 A new protocol involving a person's own T cells has achieved remarkable results in patients, essentially curing advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

This novel gene therapy created what researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center and Perelman School of Medicine call "serial killer T cells" that obliterated tumors in three patients who had run out of treatment options.

"New gene therapy could lead to cancer cures."

Up until now, patients with advanced CLL have had few options outside bone marrow transplants that are complicated, expensive and work only 50 percent of the time.

This new therapy gathers and removes a person's T cells, the body's natural soldiers. These cells are genetically modified and reprogrammed to attack tumor cells. The T cells are then injected back into the patient's body to become mass murderers.

Researchers found that these new T cells start multiplying to become an army of killers that wipe out thousands of cancer cells.

Senior author Carl June, M.D., director of Translational Research and a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Abramson Cancer Center, said that "within several weeks, the tumors had been blown away" in ways that were far more profound than he thought possible.

One patient in the study - a 64-year-old man - had tumor cells throughout his blood and bone marrow at the time he was given his own super-charged T cells. By day 28, his blood was clear of all evidence of leukemia.

Researchers believe this therapy could be used in other cancer, including ovary, lung, melanoma and other types blood cancers.

This research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine.

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Review Date: 
August 12, 2011
Last Updated:
November 8, 2012