Gene therapy experts at the University of Pennsylvania have just engineered a breakthrough in cancer treatment that even some of the more reserved members of the science community are calling an “amazing, amazing kind of achievement.” They’ve created a type of cell that hunts out and indiscriminately kills any cancer cells currently in your body as well as any that might sprout up in the future. The test group so far has been extremely small (only three people so far) but the study is no doubt one of the most promising advancements in medical science in recent times.
One year ago scientists gathered together a group of three men, all suffering from an advanced form of cancer known as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dr. Carl June and team of gene therapy experts discovered a new way of delivering specific genetic instructions to the T-cells within the patients’ bloodstreams. These new instructions were simple: destroy every cancerous cell you can find. Now, one year later – two of the patients remain completely cancer free while the third is improved with only limited cancer remaining within his body.
“It worked great. We were surprised it worked as well as it did,” said June, “We’re just a year out now. We need to find out how long these remissions last.”
“It’s still just three patients. Three’s better than one, but it’s not 100,” said Urba, who co-authored an editorial on the research that appeared in the New England Journal. Urba also went on to emphasize that the long-term success rate of this treatment is what researchers are now watching very closely.
It’s not as though the treatment comes without a hitch. It seems these killer cells also inadvertently destroy some other infection-fighting cells within the body. So all three patients have had to have regular check-ups to monitor that condition. Still it’s better than nothing.
Before this breakthrough the best hope of curing this form of cancer would be bone marrow or stem cell transplants which aren’t always effective and often times carry with them the risk of death. Scientists had already attempted a similar approach to Dr. June’s using genetically modified T-Cells in patients’ bloodstreams but the cells would die out too quickly and failed to reproduce within the bloodstream.
For the patients in this trial, this was their last hope. One patient, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote about his illness and published a statement through the university. A scientist himself, he knew all too well what his odds were. Having suffered with CLL for 15 years it seemed as though all other forms of treatment had failed. Now he considers himself “very lucky.”
“I’m healthy and still in remission. I know this may not be a permanent condition, but I decided to declare victory and assume that I had won.”
Already scientists are looking to expand this research and treatment into other forms of leukemia-related cancers, as well as pancreatic and ovarian cancer. Other institutions are looking at prostate and brain cancer.
(Source: Yahoo! News)