PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Using genes to fight cancer — that’s what researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have done.
“Any time you have three patients and two of them get a year of complete response, that’s extremely encouraging. So I was pretty excited about that,” says Dr. Jane Raymond, a cancer specialist at Allegheny General Hospital.
An experimental treatment was given to three patients with advanced leukemia — a type called CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia).
Standard treatment is chemotherapy.
“CLL has been a condition that we can control for a number of years, and then there are no therapies left,” says Dr. Raymond.
The study patients’ white blood cells were removed; a gene was inserted into the cells to turn them into a self-sustaining army of cancer killers against CLL; and the blood cells were transfused back into the patients.
A year after the treatment, two out of the three are better.
“I think in general there is a great deal of interest in every malignancy in these targeted approaches, because, as I say, they tend to treat the cancer with the minimal impact on normal cells, so patients have the fewest side effects and the greatest effectiveness in killing their cancer,” says Dr. Raymond.
This is a small pilot study. More work will have to be done to make sure it’s consistently effective and that it’s safe in the long term.