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Scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle discovered a new, revolutionary method of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
This treatment is still in the research phase but the results so far have given hope of soon having a cure on the market for one of the deadliest diseases of modern age.
This treatment uses experimental immunotherapy in which a patient’s own T cells are reprogrammed to eliminate his cancer. The doctors genetically engineered the T cells, a type of white blood cells, using special molecules to help them recognize and attack the cancer cells. These synthetic molecules are called chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR.
T cells can multiply continuously once infused into patients, which means that the therapy does not have to be administered repeatedly, as is the case with chemo which is eventually broken down by and eliminated from the body. And by introducing the CARs into two specific subsets of T cells — an approach pioneered at Fred Hutch — the researchers have achieved more potent and longer-lasting immune responses against tumors.
The trial conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Center included patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. After the administered treatment, 94% of all participants showed no sign of leukemia, the cancer was gone. Riddell, the study’s leader even showed examples of patients whose tumors disappeared from imaging scans within weeks of the infusion.
Another factor which makes this study even more revolutionary is that this percentage of success was achieved with patients who were in the last stadium of the disease and were given 2-5 months to live by their doctors.
“This kind of breakthrough has never before been reported in medicine, to achieve such results with patients in the last stages of the disease. Still, as Riddell says himself, they have a long way to go ahead of them, but these results look extremely promising and give hope for further improvement. They are also working to extend the successes seen so far to other common tumors, such as certain breast and lung cancers and Riddell said that he is very optimistic regarding the possibility to safely apply the treatment to a broader group of patients.