Cancer Treatment Yields 'Unprecedented' Results

Advanced leukemia patients go into remission
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2016 12:11 PM CST
Cancer Treatment Yields 'Unprecedented' Results
File photo of immune system T-cells.   (AP Photo/Dr. Carl June)

They were leukemia patients with months to live and nothing to lose, so researchers tried a novel therapy involving the engineering of the patients' own cells. Result? For 94% of participants, their symptoms disappeared, reports the Guardian. For those with other types of blood cancers, the response rate was a lesser but still a remarkable 80% or more. And that's why words such as "extraordinary," "unprecedented," and "revolution" are being used in coverage of the presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement for Science. In the study, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle removed T-cells from patients, armed them with molecules that go after cancer, and reintroduced them into the body. "The new T-cells then seek and destroy cancer," explains CNBC.

"This is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients," says lead scientist Stanley Riddell. But the BBC adds some caveats: This was only a presentation, with the results not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, and so it's difficult to gauge the full significance. Plus, two patients in the study died after an "extreme immune response." Still, it seems further proof that "the field of immunotherapy—harnessing the immune system to attack cancer—is coming of age," writes James Gallagher. Along those lines, the Telegraph picks up on a separate study at the same conference, one in which engineered immune cells introduced into patients 14 years ago were still present. The cells effectively function as a "living drug" providing vaccine-like protection to patients. (Might the days of chemotherapy be numbered?)

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