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Leukemia Patients Get Treatment Boost From Donors' Immune Cells
Date:2/27/2013

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've found a way to tweak and strengthen immune cells to maximize their leukemia-fighting capability while minimizing their toxic effects on the patient.

The chemotherapy that leukemia patients typically receive to kill cancer cells can also destroy the body's ability to produce new blood cells, the U.S. researchers explained.

And while bone marrow transplants can restore the body's ability to produce blood cells, that procedure is also a double-edged sword: If the donor is not perfectly matched, the new donor cells can attack the patient, resulting in potentially life-threatening graft-versus-host disease.

Given the limitations of these two standard treatments, "researchers have long sought ways to maximize the anti-leukemic response in these [bone marrow] transplants while minimizing the risk to host tissues," explained David Wiest, deputy science director at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

The new research takes an important step towards that goal, said Wiest, who was not involved with the study.

In the study, published Feb. 27 in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers supplemented bone marrow transplant with an additional population of T lymphocytes -- immune "T cells" from the same donors. These cells were "educated" in the lab to recognize a specific target, a protein called Wilms Tumor Antigen (WT1), explained study lead author Dr. Aude Chapuis.

"WT1 is an ideal target because it is not only highly expressed [produced] in the leukemia cells but is also required for their survival," Wiest explained. "So, the leukemias cannot afford to shrug off this molecule to escape the deadly attack by these T cells."

While voracious in their appetite for cancer-linked WT1, these modified immune cells left the patients' healthy cells alone, which is what the researchers wan
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