(RxWiki News) One problem with using chemotherapy in leukemia is that the T cells of the immune system are wiped out along with the cancer cells. Then patients are overwhelmed with normal bacteria that their immune system can no longer fight.
In the same way doctors ask patients to donate their own blood a week before a risky surgery, researchers stockpiled healthy T cells, the veteran police officers of the immune system, from patients before they started their chemotherapy.
Afterwards, they transplanted them back into patients. With the increased level of immune cells, patients did not get sick as often and had higher levels of remission.
"Ask your oncologist about storing your T cells before chemotherapy."
Stephen J. Schuster, M.D., director of the Lymphoma Program at The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, led the study of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Researchers have noticed that advanced leukemia seems to prevent immune system recovery, and similarly a healthy immune systems seems to help keep the cancer in remission.
"Within four weeks of the T cell infusion, their T cell counts were within the normal range," says Dr. Schuster.
He further notes the drug used in the study, Fludara (fludarabine) is "...very active at killing CLL cells, [but] also very active at killing normal cells... so you rid the patient of their disease, but [also] a normal immune system."
Thirty-four patients were enrolled in the study. Fourteen months after the T cells were injected back into patients, two thirds of them remained in remission.
A particularly notable finding was that levels of T cells increased not only by the amount transplanted back into patients, but also accelerated the growth of new immune cells.
An additional benefit of the T cell infusion was that patients in the study did not need to take prophylactic antibiotics for as long as usual. Information on the Federal Drug Administration's website states that Fludara is notable for decreasing levels of immune cells.
Results from the study were presented at the 53rd meeting of the American Hematological Society in December.
This study was funded by the CLL Global Research Foundation.