“Serial killers” offer new hope for cancer patients
What do you get when you take three cancer patients with little hope of survival, and treat them with an experimental new therapy? In the case of the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and their patients… you get a miracle.
I’m talking about the kind of real-world results that should have cancer researchers around the world sitting up and taking notice. Because one year after treatment, these terminally ill patients were still in complete remission. This exciting news has led the researchers to call it…
A cancer treatment breakthrough 20 years in the making
This cancer breakthrough isn’t the result of a drug or a risky procedure. It’s a treatment that utilizes genetically engineered versions of the patients own T-cells.
Your body has T-cells (also known as killer cells) whose job it is to guard your body from infection. In most circumstances, they are extremely efficient in doing the job they need to do. But when it comes to a fast-growing tumor, your T-cells just can’t keep up. To make matters worse, when cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy, their T-cells take?an even harder hit.
But imagine being able to take your own T-cells and turn them into serial cancer killers. That’s exactly what the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine did. Through a process called gene transfer therapy, they were able to create specialized T-cells that attacked cancerous tumors in advanced cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
These genetically engineered T-cells are super-powered to target specific cancer cells——and to leave your healthy cells alone.
“Within three weeks, the tumors had been blown away, in a way that was much more violent than we ever expected,” said senior author Carl June of the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
The researchers didn’t stop at turbo-charging the T-cells. They also engineered them to trigger your body’s other T-cells to begin multiplying as soon as they attach to a cancer cell.
“We saw at least a 1,000-fold increase in the number of modified T-cells in each of the patients. Drugs don’t do that,” said Dr. June [emphasis mine].
He’s right. Drugs don’t do that. Because as powerful as a drug might be, it’s no match for your body’s own defense system. And that’s exactly what these researchers have done: They’ve supercharged your body’s natural?cancer killing agents.
The New England Journal of Medicine described the case of a 64-year-old man whose blood and marrow were overrun with tumor cells. Two weeks after the gene cell therapy, the treatment looked like a failure. But then something happened. He experienced a huge increase in his T-cell count, and within 28 days, there was no evidence of leukemia in his blood and marrow.
In case you didn’t grasp the enormity of that result, I’ll say it again…
In less than one month, his leukemia disappeared
As in… Poof! Gone! Sayonara! Cancer treatment breakthroughs don’t get more exciting than this! And the news continues to get better because the researchers saw similar results with the other two patients.
They said, “On average, each infused T-cell led to the killing of thousands of tumor cells——and overall, destroyed at least two pounds of tumor in each patient” [emphasis mine——news like that deserves to stand out!].
Of course, no one knows yet how long this treatment will keep cancer at bay, but they do know that months after the gene cell therapy, the new serial killer cells had multiplied and were continuing their seek-and-destroy mission against cancerous cells.
This treatment has the potential to offer a safer, more effective option to bone marrow transplants. And clearly, we’re in need of a better alternative. The success rate of bone marrow transplants hovers at 50 percent——that is, if you’re not unlucky enough to be in the 20 percent that die from the procedure itself.
The researchers hope to use this similar gene cell therapy as a tumor-attack roadmap to treat other cancers, including ovarian, lung, myeloma, and melanoma.
If you ask me, they’re on the right track. I’ll keep you posted on further developments.