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Immune Therapy Shows Early Promise for Advanced Leukemia
Date:3/21/2013

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental therapy that targets the immune system might offer a new way to treat an often deadly form of adult leukemia, a preliminary study suggests.

The research involved only five adults with recurrent B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. ALL progresses quickly, and patients can die within weeks if untreated. The typical first treatment is three separate phases of chemotherapy drugs.

For many patients, that beats back the cancer. But it often returns. At that point, the only hope for long-term survival is to have another round of chemo that wipes out the cancer, followed by a bone marrow transplant.

But when the disease recurs, it is often resistant to many chemo drugs, explained Dr. Renier Brentjens, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

So, Brentjens and his colleagues tested a different approach. They took immune system T-cells from the blood of five patients, then genetically engineered the cells to express so-called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which help the T-cells recognize and destroy ALL cells.

The five patients received infusions of their tweaked T-cells after having standard chemotherapy. All five quickly saw a complete remission -- within eight days for one patient, the researchers found.

Four patients went on to a bone marrow transplant, the researchers reported March 20 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The fifth was ineligible because he had heart disease and other health conditions that made the transplant too risky.

"To our amazement, we got a full and a very rapid elimination of the tumor in these patients," said Dr. Michel Sadelain, another Sloan-Kettering researcher who worked on the study.

Many questions remain, however. And the treatment -- known as adoptive T-cell therapy -
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