Researchers report that an experimental therapy that involves genetically programming cells from the body’s own immune system provides many patients with advanced leukemia periods of prolonged remission. Reportedly, this new treatment is succeeding where more traditional treatments failed.
A recent study was conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, with findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
This particular study involved 30 patients, broken down by five adults between the ages of 26 and 60, as well as 25 children and young adults aged 5 to 22. All of the participants of the study were seriously ill with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In addition, all had experienced several relapses or never responded favorably to more standard forms of therapy.
Researchers found than in over 50% of the patients, the disease had returned following a stem-cell transplant, which in most cases, offers these patients the best hope of survival. These patients had a life expectancy of just months, if not weeks. However, after six months of treatment with the new therapy, 23 of the 30 patients were still alive and of the 23, 19 remained in complete remission.
According to Dr. Stephen A. Grupp, study leader, Children’s Hospital sees several patients each year who have been in remission for more than a year and not needing other therapies. Noting long remission periods associated with this new therapy provides researchers, as well as doctors and patients tremendous hope.
The same researchers were involved with just a few patients, some of which had chronic leukemia opposed to acute leukemia and got the same results. This shows scientists that the findings of the study are real and thereby, an increasing number of patients can be treated.
Noted by Dr. Carl H. June, director of translational research at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s cancer center, initially, no one knew if this was just luck but it has now been confirmed that results can be reproduced.
June along with Grupp and other hospitals throughout the country plan to test this experimental treatment on children suffering from advanced acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Additional research conducted at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the National Cancer Institute show the same encouraging results.
In the United States alone, roughly 2,400 people over the age of 20 and 3,600 under this age are affected with acute lymphoblastic leukemia each year. For adults, there is a cure rate of about 40% whereas for children, the cure rate jumps to as much as 80% to 90%. However, every year, approximately 1,170 adults and 270 younger adults and children die from this disease.
Unfortunately, genetically programming cells from the immune system does not work for everyone. The study revealed that of the 30 participants, 7 died, which included a few who at first went into remission but then relapsed.