For years leukemia has remained to be a disease requiring some of the most painful treatments. A relapse after one treatment spells a more expensive and radical therapy.
An experimental T-cell therapy, however, has provided lots of hope for those with leukemia, and the recent study conducted by researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania showed high success rate among the studied patients.
The experiment whose results were published on October 16 in the New England Journal of Medicine, brought prolonged remissions to a large number of patient-participants who were facing death from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) or advanced leukemia following failed standard treatments.
ALL is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that progresses quickly, and is more common in children than adults.
The research included 30 patients: five adults ages 26 to 60, and 25 children and young adults ages 5 to 22.
Researchers found that 27 of 30 participants with the said illness went into full remission after receiving genetically tweaked versions of their own immune system cells. Of those, all except three went into remission, and 23 were still alive after six months.
The group’s senior researcher, Dr. Stephan Grupp, said “Ninety percent of patients who had no options left went into complete remission.”
However, the study also revealed that seven patients who went into remission did eventually suffer a relapse and have since died, but 19 are still cancer-free, including 15 who have had no other treatment, according to reports from the New York Times.
The therapy, NYT explains, uses a patient’s own T-cells to treat the disease. After extracting the T-cells, researchers genetically engineer them. The new genetic material reprograms the T-cells to recognize and kill any cell that carries a particular protein on its surface. Then the cells are dripped back into the patient, like a transfusion.
NYT reported that in the United States, ALL affects about 2,400 people older than 20, and 3,600 younger. It has a cure rate in adults of only about 40 percent, compared with 80 percent to 90 percent in children. About 1,170 adults die from the disease each year, compared with 270 people under age 20, the publication added.
WebMD said that according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 6,000 people in the U.S will be diagnosed with ALL this year, and just over 1,400 will die. Adults will account for 80 percent of those deaths, the ACS added.
The findings indeed offers hope to people with advanced leukemia. However, Grupp said ongoing studies will have to clarify the therapy’s role in treating ALL.