For years, researchers, survivors, and various interest organizations, have tirelessly sought to develop or fund cutting edge treatment protocols that would help increase survival rates for blood cancers and eventually lead to a much-desired cure.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, there are currently 327,520 people in the United States are living with or are in remission from leukemia. Generally, achieving remission has more than quadrupled since the 1960s. The “overall relative survival rate” for all blood cancers was 60.3 percent between 2004 and 2010. More specifically, patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) have a survival rate of 85.3 percent, the highest overall survival rate within the leukemia category; Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) has the highest survival rate for children at about 92 percent, but an overall survival rate of 70 percent. Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) has the lowest for adults at 25.4 percent. AML in children under 15 years old has a 66.3 percent survival rate.
In February, researchers from Boston University published a report with promising findings about an innovative treatment for patients with blood cancers. Dr. Hui Feng and her team, Dr. Nicole M. Anderson, Dr. Dun Li, and Dr. Fabrice Laroche, suggest that T-cell leukemia cells can support its growth and survival, leading to more patients achieving remission.
The Boston University team worked with 35 terminally ill leukemia patients, and 94 percent successfully went into remission utilizing genetically modified T-cells. The study suggests that the T-cell therapy has the greatest success with blood cancers, however, oncologists and researches are hopeful that similar results can be achieved with tumors.
Similar trials have been conducted in the United Kingdom, Italy and throughout the United States with great success. How do the oncologists and researchers perform the T-cell process that seems to be drastically changing therapy options for blood cancer patients? In the simplest terms, T-cells are removed from the patient’s body, genetically modified, and the modified T-cells are transfused back into the patient. The study suggests that the CARS (Chimeric Antigen Receptor) molecules “reduce the ability of the cancer to shield itself from the patient’s immune system, allowing the T-cells to attack the cancer.” Given the nature of blood cancers, a treatment that is able to weaken a cancer cell’s ability to fight the immune system is groundbreaking.
Other than the Boston University team, US San Diego announced that it is conducting three T-cell like trials: ZUMA-1, ZUMMA-2 and ZUMMA-3. With several research institutions conducting trials and furthering the research on this groundbreaking protocol, T-cell therapy could provide alternatives to aggressive and toxic therapies that, albeit, stops the cancer cells from rapidly expanding, also kill good cells as well. The Federal government, via the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears to be supportive of T-cell related trials. In 2014, the FDA granted Breakthrough Therapy status to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application submitted by University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, focused on T-cell therapy treatments in ALL patients.
While researchers and oncologists posit that T-cell therapy is ground breaking and “extraordinary”, patients and families are also thrilled that a new treatment could potentially become widely available, particularly those patients that have tried traditional treatments and failed to achieve remission.