'Holy Grail' of Cancer Treatment May Have Arrived

Doctors excited about 'huge' new clinical trial
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2011 7:24 AM CDT
Updated Aug 14, 2011 1:11 PM CDT
'Holy Grail' of Cancer Treatment May Have Arrived
This microscopy image provided by Dr. Carl June on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011 shows immune system T-cells, center, binding to beads which cause the cells to divide.   (AP Photo/Dr. Carl June)

Dramatic results from a new cancer treatment trial are being called "a huge accomplishment—huge," and could mean a breakthrough in treating a common type of leukemia and potentially a range of other cancers. University of Pennsylvania scientists basically turned patients' T cells into leukemia-killing machines by modifying a virus so that it would cause the T cells to bind with and destroy leukemia cells. When the T cells were injected with the virus and then re-entered the patients, each one killed at least 1,000 cancer cells. Some experts believe other cancers—including blood, breast, and colon—could utilize the same type of treatment.

Not only did the T cells eradicate the cancer cells, they also multiplied greatly, survived for months, and produced "memory" T cells that could awaken from dormancy if the cancer comes back. Two of the three patients studied, all of whom suffered from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, have stayed cancer-free for more than a year, the Los Angeles Times reports. The "very potent" therapy does include side effects, but bone marrow transplants—previously the only treatment for this type of leukemia—can also be very dangerous. An alternate treatment using a patient's own immune system, such as this one, is "kind of a holy grail," says one doctor. (Read more leukemia stories.)

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