Genetically tailored virus may cure leukemia

Here and Now

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Two leukemia patients are now cancer-free a year after they began a new treatment. The secret? A virus designed to attack cancer cells.

The findings for the study were recently published in the New England Journal for Medicine. Traditionally, leukemia has been treated by injecting donor bone marrow into the patient–a notoriously painful procedure. Instead, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have conducted a study where they retrieve the patient’s own white blood cells and inject them with a gene which helps guide T cells to tumors.

“This is true personalized medicine,” said Dr. Bruce Levine, one of the researchers for this project. “We’re basically turning T cells into tumor-seeking missiles.”

What’s more, the genetically enhanced T cells can remain dormant in the patient and reactivate again should any cancer cells reappear in the body.

“It’s almost as if we have a surveillance system circulating in the patient’s body to attack any new tumor if it were to arise,” Levine said.

The treatment, though, is not without side effects. Experts relate the symptoms to “the worst flu you’ve ever had.” But the risks with the genetically tailored T cells are much lower than bone marrow or bone marrow stem cell donation.

The ramifications of this finding could mean similar cures for other ferocious cancers. Levine and his team are also testing this treatment on mesothelioma, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

“You can have the T cells target almost any cancer,” Levine said.

Read more about the treatment on the University of Pennsylvania website.


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