Scientists have found a way to teach the body’s immune system to identify and fight cancer cells, and may be a basis for a cancer vaccine. The research has been done on patients with leukemia, and soon, doctors are hopeful, that this can eventually be used to people suffering from other types of cancer such as breast, bowel and prostate cancers.
Dr. Guenther Koehne, Medical Director at the Cytotherapy Laboratory of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in new York, has treated 15 plasma cell leukemia patients with T-cells taught to recognize cancer over the course of three years.
Dr. Koehne aims at reducing rates of disease recurrence following allogeneic stem cell transplantations. The initial process was detailed in Dr. Koehne’s research entitled “Recombinant human interleukin-7 (CYT107) promotes T-cell recovery after allogeneic stem cell transplantation” published online in the journal Blood Journal, December 6, 2012.
The process involves taking the bone marrow from a donor and splitting it into stem cells and T-cells. The patient receives the stem cells immediately, while the T-cells are sensitized to WT1 (a protein found on the surface of the cells of many types of cancer) in the lab through exposure to fragments of the protein. It is then given to the patients in a series of injections over several months.
One of Dr. Koehne’s patients, Ruth Lacey, 64, was the first to try the procedure last 2012. She was so ill with leukemia, following a relapse and intensive chemotherapy that she was “comatose”. After receiving the treatment from Dr. Koehne, her cancer was reduced to undetectable levels.
“Most people have immune cells which can’t recognize cancer cells, which is one of the major problems with tackling the disease,” explains Dr. Emma Morris, a hematologists at University College London and the Royal Free Hospital. “We have genetically engineered patients’ immune cells so they develop receptors for the WT1 protein, making them much better at recognizing leukemia cells.”
This process of cancer treatment will work better than the current cure for it continues to fight cancer even after the cancer is gone. Immune cells have a “memory”, persisting at low levels in case a threat re-emerges.
“These treatments are still in the early stages of clinical trials, and although some people have had great responses, they haven’t worked for everyone,” said Dr. Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK.
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