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Rare and serious form of leukaemia halted with exciting new treatment

Published on 22/03/2013

US scientists have successfully developed a new form of treatment for patients with a rare and serious form of cancer.

White blood cells were genetically modified to fight cancer

Scientists at the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York developed a technique called targeted immunotherapy, which involves transfusing the immune cells of cancer patients that had been genetically modified with an extra cancer-fighting gene.

The new treatment was tested on patients with a form of cancer called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.

The patients had initially undergone chemotherapy to control their cancers, but the disease had returned and the cancer had developed resistance to the drugs.

In order to treat these patients, the scientists inserted an extra gene into their white blood cells. This enabled the identification and destruction of any cancerous cells in the bloodstream.

Reporting in the journal Science Translational Medicine, four out of five of the participants underwent a bone marrow transplant following the targeted immunotherapy.

Targeted immunotherapy itself is not a cure, but is designed to cause remission and make the patients eligible for stem cell transplantation.

Three of the patients have now been in remission for between 5 and 24 months. Before therapy they would have only had a few months to live.

In one patient who was severely ill, all traces of leukaemia vanished in eight days.

Two of the other patients died, with one relapsing and the other dying from a blood clot.

Lead author Renier Brentjens said: "Patients with relapsed B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia resistant to chemotherapy have a particularly poor prognosis."

"This ability of our approach to achieve complete remissions in all of these very sick patients is what makes these findings so remarkable and this novel therapy so promising.”

At the moment, the treatment is still experimental. It now needs to be tested on more patients before it can be made standard treatment for people with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, as well as other blood cancers.

Scientists now need to examine the effectiveness of targeted immunotherapy on more patients before it could become a standard treatment.

Experts hope that with more testing the technique could one day be available for NHS patients and those with private medical insurance.

© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2013

Categories:  Medical
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