Cancer Eradicated by T-cell Transformations


Cancer was eradicated by T-cell transformations in a University of Pennsylvania research study.  The results of the study were announced today, and doctors are calling it a miracle. Dr. Renier Brentjens, with Memorial Sloan Kettering, after discovering that one of the patients he was treating had no cancer cells, said, “I can’t describe what that’s like, it’s fantastic.”

The procedure for each study patient was to take their own T-cells, which fight cancer and genetically modify them to seek out and target cancer cells, killing them in the process.   T-cells are a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the core of adaptive immunity.

In Leukemia patients whose chances of cure rested on chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow transplants, the glimpse of these study results is giving hope and encouragement.  Instead of putting poisons in to kill the cancer, the patient’s own body is strengthening the immune system by turning T-Cells into cancer killing cells.

Nick Wilkins, at the age of fourteen years, was one of the study participants.  Since he was 4 years old, Nick went through chemotherapy, radiation and finally a bone marrow transplant with his sister; all this in order to fight leukemia.  Nick’s father explained the possibilities to his son and Nick decided to go for the new treatment.  Nick has been cancer-free for six months and is 15 years-old now.

The study has seen great results in children, as 18 of the 21 children who took part in the study are now in remission.

Cancer can now be eradicated by a patient’s body, through transformations of the T-cells, with less side effects than with chemotherapy or radiation.  These two treatments are both painful, and can lead to other chronic conditions such as lymphedema.  The University of Pennsylvania’s results are promising for the future course of cancer treatments.

Doug Olson, who suffered for 14 years with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, (CLL), was another participant in the study. Olson had tried every traditional medical treatment and was presented with a possible bone marrow transplant that had a 50 percent chance of taking care of his cancer.  “You know, it’s sort of standing at the edge of a cliff with a parachute that may or may not open,” Olson said.

Instead, Olson decided to take part in the T-cell transformation and his cure has been proven for more than three years. Dr. David Porter, who treated Olson and other patients, said, “We’ve seen for every T-cell that we genetically modify and put into a patient’s body, have the ability to kill up to 93,000 leukemia cells.”

For the adult study population, 32 participants were treated, with seven adults in remission, and 13 patients seeing an improvement in their condition.  The modified T-cells continue to work and have shown to be active more than three years later.

Although patients suffered from flu-like symptoms during the research, they were not exposed to the significant side effects of chemotherapy and radiation during the study.  The symptoms typically lasted for the first two weeks and then subsided.

Researchers hope to battle other kinds of cancer in this way.  If T-cells can be transformed to assist the body in killing cancer cells, perhaps cancer can be eradicated in our time. It is a hope that gives encouragement to all who suffer from leukemia and also for those who are currently in remission, as they have a new option for a possible return of cancer.

By Lisa M Pickering

CBS News