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Cells "killer" to fight leukemia

Fighting leukemia with the patient's own cells, genetically modified
Fighting leukemia with the patient's own cells, genetically modified

Fighting leukemia with the patient's own cells, genetically modified. This approach is attractive to achieve spectacular results in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of blood cancer. With almost a year back, and two of three patients treated at an advanced stage of disease are in complete remission, shows Carl June (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia) and colleagues in their article published last week simultaneously in two journals, the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine.

Immune cells reprogrammed and re-injected to patients acted as real "serial killers" to diseased cells, say researchers. While these results need to be confirmed with longer follow-up and a more effective result, they validate the principle of targeted immunotherapies that aim to stimulate the immune system and direct them specifically to destroy tumors.

Excess production of B lymphocytes (white blood cells that make antibodies), chronic lymphocytic leukemia is primarily a disease of the elderly. It represents over 40% of leukemia in older than 65 years. Forms unsophisticated, fairly common, do not require treatment. Chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant can be found in more advanced forms.

The three patients enrolled in the U.S. trial were in this case with leukemia who no longer responded to chemotherapy. The researchers collected their T cells, other white blood cells involved in immune response. They have genetically modified with the help of a virus, so they proliferate and attack selectively to B cells and therefore cancer cells. The precious potion was then reinjected. "In the body of patients, the number of modified T cells has increased at least by 1000, no drug does this", writes Dr. June. Each of these cells behaved like a serial killer, eliminating thousands of cancer cells. A total of one kilogram of tumor has been destroyed for each patient. "Some have also developed symptoms severe enough (fever, nausea...) after three weeks, due to the massive destruction of tumor cells. Above all, the antitumor activity was maintained over time as two of three patients in complete remission are still eleven months later. The third had a relapse in an attenuated form after four months.

The researchers now plan to test this strategy in other leukemias and other cancers: ovarian, pancreas and pleura. Note however that this specialist technology developed by the U.S. team requires a deployment of substantial resources, as necessary to prepare the treatment for each patient. One drawback that no other competing strategies, such as monoclonal antibodies.


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