Reprogrammed immune cells fight advanced leukaemia

In collaboration with the Press Association

A specialised therapy that uses a patient’s own genetically altered cells could be an effective treatment for advanced leukaemia, US researchers report.

“We look forward to following this story as the researchers take the treatment into further trials, to make sure it is safe and effective for leukaemia patients” - Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK

The treatment harnesses the body’s own immune cells, ‘re-educating’ them to target cancer cells that they would have previously been blind to.

The researchers believe this new therapy could form an effective ‘bridging treatment’ to potentially curative stem cell transplants.

Building on a previous study, the researchers extracted specialised immune cells called T cells from 16 people with acute B-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia (B-ALL). They then genetically reprogrammed the T cells to recognise and target cancer cells once they are reintroduced into the blood.  

The researchers, based at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, found that 88 per cent of treated patients achieved complete remission.

And nearly half (44 per cent) of patients were then able to undergo a bone marrow-derived stem cell transplant – a potentially curative option for B-ALL patients.

B-ALL develops from white blood cells called lymphocytes. It often responds to initial chemotherapy, but can become resistant to treatment.

For the patients in the latest study, their B-ALL had returned following treatment and all further treatment options had failed.

Dr Michel Sadelain, director of the Center for Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering and an author on the study, said that these latest results demonstrate that this new therapy could be a “powerful treatment option for patients who have exhausted all conventional therapies.”

"Our initial findings have held up in a larger cohort of patients, and we are already looking at new clinical studies to advance this novel therapeutic approach in fighting cancer," he added.

Dr Kat Arney, science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Although this is the biggest trial so far for this type of promising treatment, which uses a patient’s own genetically modified immune cells, it’s still very small.

“We look forward to following this story as the researchers take the treatment into further trials, to make sure it is safe and effective for leukaemia patients.”

The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Copyright Press Association 2014

References

  • Davila M.L, et al. (2014). Efficacy and Toxicity Management of 19-28z CAR T Cell Therapy in B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Science Translational Medicine, 6 (224) 224ra25. DOI: