Cancer treatments emerge every now and then but nothing was truly successful in eliminating tumor cells. Now, scientists have found an extraordinary treatment wherein engineered immune cells are used to target a specific type of cancer.

Presenting at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Dr. Stanley Riddell reveals a treatment that can stop cancer from ever coming back.

Dubbed "living drug", the therapy will act like a vaccine. It uses the body's own immune cells to attack tumor cells that have spread to other parts of the body.

"The merging of gene therapy, synthetic biology and cell biology is providing new treatment options for patients with refractory malignancies and represents a novel class of therapeutics with the potential to transform cancer care," Riddell said.

"In the laboratory and in clinical trials, we are seeing dramatic responses in patients with tumors that are resistant to conventional high-dose chemotherapy," he added.

T-cells Are Living Drugs

Vaccines protect people from diseases caused by certain pathogens. People are protected against flu and other illnesses because once the vaccine is introduced to the body, T-cells encounters the antigen and gets activated. It kills and remembers that certain microbe. Once it is introduced to the body again, T-cells are already aware that these are enemies of the body.

In T-cell therapy, the procedures involve using white blood cells that normally fight off bacteria and viruses. These T-cells were removed from the patient and genetically engineered to remember the tumor cells. About millions of these cells are grown in the laboratory before infusing it back to the patient with a new ability to kill tumor cells.

The scientists in the laboratory are working to improve the technology to be able to apply the therapy to a wider range of cancers. New engineered cells will also be developed with lesser side effects.

Clinical Trial

In a trial in Milan, ten patients who underwent bone marrow transplants were given immune-boosting therapy including memory T-cells. After 14 years, the cells were still present. The trial shows that engineered T-cells can stay in the body longer providing protection from any relapse of the disease. Scientists hope that immunotherapies could someday replace cell-damaging chemotherapies.

"The implication is that infusing genetically modified versions of these particular T-cells, the stem memory T-cells, could provide a long-lasting immune response against a person's cancer," Dr. Daniel Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, said

Photo: National Institutes of Health | Flickr 

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