Move over, chemo

United States (Seattle)

A radical and experimental new cancer treatment has recently achieved a success rate of over 90 percent in a trial. Immunotherapy is a gene-editing cell treatment that uses an advanced cancer patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Dr. Stanley Riddell at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center shared the results that there were dramatic remissions in 27 out or 29 blood patients and announced: “We are at the precipice of a revolution.”

Reprogramming T-cells to eliminate cancer involves genetically engineering cells with synthetic molecules, called chimeric antigen receptors, to enable them to target and destroy tumour cells bearing a particular target. Trial participants included patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Riddell’s lab is now working on making significant strides to refine ways to use the human immune system to overcome cancer and other diseases. It is already developing the next generation of engineered T-cells, which are expected to be safer and easier to design, as well as working to extend the successes seen so far to other common tumours, such as certain breast and lung cancers. The team also wants to track how long patients remain in remission following the treatment before progressing with broader trials.

While there are distinct challenges, Riddell said he was optimistic that it would be possible to safely apply immunotherapies more broadly, so that more patients can ultimately benefit. But, he cautioned, “Much like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it’s not going to be a save-all.” Some patients may require other treatments.

Watch the killer T-cells in action:

Written by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future (12 April 2016)

Project leader

Stanley Riddell, Lead researcher, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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Dr. Stanley Riddell

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