A new cancer treatment using the body’s T-cells to fight disease has been developed that could potentially to wipe out cancer. It isn’t just a treatment, either. In fact, it works like a vaccine.
“These [results] are in patients that have failed everything. Most of the patients in our trial would be projected to have two to five months to live.”
Stanely Riddell, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, spoke at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The topic of discussion was a new treatment method developed by his team in which 94 percent of terminally-ill leukemia patients saw remission and experienced an unprecedented success rate for any treatment trial. Instead of using drugs to fight the disease, their treatment involved modifying the body’s own immune cells to target cancer and renew the patient’s lease on life.
The trials, however, were only geared toward treating a specific variation of blood cancer known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and it is not known how the treatment method will be used to treat other forms of cancer. But the method takes a patient’s T-cells, tags them with receptor molecules that are tailored for the specific disease, and the cells are infused back into the body with tremendous results. The fact that these cells can be adapted to fight one disease, not to mention the advanced condition of the of the disease in each patient, makes it likely that the method can be altered for other ailments and shows promise that cancer can become a thing of the past, according to Express.
Whether or not it’s too soon to determine the promising nature of the treatment, these unprecedented results are not just a step forward, but a big step.
“T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives.” said Chiara Bonini, a researcher who called the treatment “a revolution.”
“This is extraordinary. This is unprecedented in medicine to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients.”
The receptors used to modify the patient’s T-cells were taken from genetically enhanced mice. These molecules are known as Chimeric Antigen Receptors, or CAR for short. Once the CAR molecules and the T-cells are matched up, the cancer is no longer able to shield itself from the body’s immune system.
“There are reasons to be optimistic, there are reasons to be pessimistic,” said Riddell. It is still too soon to tell how long the patients will remain in remission, nor have any major side effects been reported. One element essential to science is a healthy dose of skepticism. In other words, the researchers are delivering their results, but not making any extravagant promises.
The Guardian reports that T-cell therapy is the last defense for many blood cancer patients and in all these cases, chemotherapy had failed their subjects. In blood cancer patients, their immune system is often particularly compromised due to the fact that the disease is able to hide in their bloodstream undetected until it reaches a tipping point. At this point, the body’s defense cells become overloaded. And reprogramming the cells can come with heavy side effects as well. Cytokine release syndrome (sCRS) can be deadly. Twenty patients in the study came down with sCRS and suffered from a variety of symptoms, including fever, hypotension, and neurotoxicity.
While the treatment method waits to be moved beyond the limited trials, the researchers remain hopeful and have a vision of where their work will go. Riddell believes they are very close to having a “cellular product.” Bonini said that their method could lead to a more advanced immune system that, once treated with the enhanced T-cells, could have a memory that attacks the disease if the patient ever comes out of remission. That way, in the future, if the disease comes back, your body will deal with it, and you won’t even know you’ve been infected.
In the meantime, Riddell’s team is working on their research paper, currently under review and pending publication.
[Photo by Getty Images]