Previously we’ve told you about advances in cancer research where HIV is used to kill leukemia and genetic therapy can be used to make cancer kill itself. Now there’s still more good news: A new gene therapy treatment not only stops leukemia relapses, it stops them in about a week.
Specifically, the treatment was targeted to acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the nastiest blood cancers out there, and is using the popular method of retraining the body’s immune system to hunt down and kill cancer:
In acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, immune cells called B-cells become malignant. The team were able to target a surface molecule known as CD19 that is only present on B-cells. Doctors extracted other immune cells called T-cells from the patients. These were treated with a harmless virus, which installed a new gene redirecting them to attack all cells bearing CD19. When the engineered T-cells were reinfused into the patients, they rapidly killed all B-cells, cancerous or otherwise.
This made the cancer virtually undetectable in a week.
To understand just how important this is, if an acute lymphoblastic leukemia patient relapses, it’s as close as you get to a medical death sentence.
It isn’t 100% effective: Of the five patients tested, one relapsed and died due to it. On the other hand, a cancer treatment with an 80% effective rate (so far) is the kind of thing you generally open up the champagne for in cancer research circles.
Even better, this is a further validation of the overall technique as a cancer fighter. Cancer cells tend to have unique pairs of molecules, and if we can find more targets, this method may be able to take out more cancers.
We tend to liken the fight against cancer to thousands of battles fought at once. This is a major win in one of those battles… and possibly a bigger one in the wider war.