Reprogrammed T-Cells Are Leukemia “Serial Killers”

This microscopy image provided by Dr. Carl June on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011 shows immune system T-cells, center, binding to beads which cause the cells to divide. Scientists are reporting the first clear success with gene therapy to treat leukemia. (Dr. Carl June/The Associated Press)

Three men who were suffering from advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are now healthy and cancer-free, thanks to a pair of clinical studies for a promising new gene therapy. The results, announced Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine, have medical researchers in thrall: “I’m getting goosebumps,” says University of Pennsylvania pathologist Michael Kalos, lead author of one of the studies.

Though the sample is small, the findings of Drs. Carl June and Michael Kalos (both of the University of Pennsylvania) indicate the new treatment is better than successful–in addition to eradicating tumors and removing cancer cells from the body for over a year, the reprogrammed T-cells seemingly act as a vaccine, preventing future recurrences of cancer.

The technique works like this: the patient’s T-cells are isolated and genetically reprogrammed using a virus vector that inserts a new gene into their DNA. This new gene prompts the T-cells to create an antibody — known as chimeric antigen receptor or CAR — that specifically targets structures present on the surface of cancer cells.

After the modified T-cells are injected back into the patient, they seek and attach themselves to cancer cells, then obliterate them with a swiftness and efficiency that has researchers astounded. They’ve been dubbed “serial killers,” and each reprogrammed T-cell is responsible for the calculated death of thousands of cancer cells. “Within three weeks the tumours had been blown away, in a way that was much more violent than we ever expected,” said June.

More importantly, however, the “serial killer” cells cause other T-cells to multiply each time they attack, creating more killers with each slain cancer cell. Healthy tissue is left unharmed and the patient’s immune system is not only uncompromised, but bolstered by the additional production of T-cells. “If leukemia does come back, those T-cells (appear to be) armed and ready to eliminate it,” Kalos said.

There’s no reason to suspect that this treatment is only effective against leukemia, either. By modifying the T-cells to target a specific structure on various cancers, the new technique is feasible for treatment of “hard tumor” cancers like breast, lung and prostate. “You can target prostate cancer, for example, by targeting any of the surface molecules that have been shown to be present on prostate cancer,” Kalos says.

These are not the first studies to utilize modified T-cells as cancer treatment, but they are the first to show robust and successful results. The object now is to repeat the process in further studies, which are planned for the coming months.

[source: 1|2]


17 Responses to Reprogrammed T-Cells Are Leukemia “Serial Killers”

      • I was about to comment with something very similar to this! Its great that this seems to be working, but we have seen so many movies and books that our imaginations cant help but say to us, "What if"

        not only will they be zombies, they will be healthy, cancer free zombies!

  1. This is real, right? Not a hoax? If it's true this is probably the biggest break through in science in years (at least I think so).

    I hope this treatment ends up being a safe and effective means of treating cancer.

    I imagine it'll be expensive though, at least at first. And I wonder how drug companies will take this kind of "cure"? (Since the cell reproduce on their own, it seems you only need to be injected once. Right?) I hope insurance companies have some balls and actually cover this kind of treatment.

    • Not a hoax. This is a serious breakthrough in cancer therapies, and if the follow-up studies prove that this technique is as effective as it appears and feasible for larger-scale availability, then what we're looking at is the cure for cancer. I suspect if June and Kalos's next patients see similar results with the altered T-cells then we'll have a boom in this kind of research for other cancer types. In the meantime it's just a waiting game for the public while the process is refined and retested.

    • The drug company that makes this cure can charge for this single injection .. 5 years worth of cancer treatment. The insurance companies will have to pay it (because they would be saving money in the end).

      So this would cause the owners of the drug company to become multi-billionaires overnight and they can take that money and either buy an island somewhere (Australia?) or spend it on an AIDS cure or regenerative medicine.

  2. True, I guess we'll just have to wait and see if this doesn't have any side-effects in the long run.
    Hopefully not…

    • Well, considering the side effect of cancer is painful death, I'm sure many will be willing to risk lesser problems.

  3. Of course, this is where cancers begin to mutate – just like the bacteria of today. Unless the kill rate is 100% and instantaneous, then those that do survive long enough to reproduce/multiple/divide will have "offspring" that are better suited to fighting off this treatment. Much like the antibiotic-resistant bacteria we're seeing today, if you only kill 99.99%, that .01% is some of the toughest bacteria out there, and there offspring will be as well.
    The only thing on our side, is that Cancers don't mutate nearly as fast as bacteria or viruses.

    • Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't a key difference that cancers aren't contagious. If this were to happen wouldn't it be isolated to a single unfortunate person (who would probably still be glad that 99.99% of his/her cancer is gone) and then stop with them?

      Again, this is just based on the limited knowledge I have of cancer, I may be mistaken.

      • GHudston is quite right, you can't "catch" cancer. It's just cells mutating and turning on the body. As far as I know there's no way for cancer to spread onto another person.

        And even if it got rid of only 99%, that would still be quite an accomplishment, wouldn't it? I imagine the last bit they could try getting rid of with chemo treatments (possibly much lower doses of it too, since most of the cancer is already gone). Either way, the person will live longer and be healthier than if they never got the treatment to begin with.

  4. So what happens when someone is injected with the wrong T-cells? If it is for the wrong type of cancer or the wrong person…does it lay dormant and nothing happens or does it make the patient worse?

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