A new cellular treatment for certain blood cancers is being tested with “extraordinary” results, bringing scientists to the beginnings of a possible medical revolution.
Researchers are witnessing incredible rates of remission in early experimental trials that use the immune system’s own T-cells, according to the Guardian. By altering the cells to specifically target cancer, scientists are treating patients with blood cancers, with “unprecedented” results and newfound optimism.
T-Cells: The Body’s “Living Medicine”
T-cells are a type of white blood cell that search for abnormalities (like cancer or tumors) or infections (bacterial, viral, or even parasitic) in the body as they circulate through the bloodstream. With this new treatment method, scientists take a sample of these immune cells and then genetically modify the antigen receptors — the sensor part of the cell — that target a specific cancer (much in the same way some target flu viruses or infections).
Once the altered cells proliferate and multiply, they are infused back into the patient’s body where they attack the blood cancer. Basically, scientists turn the T-cells into bloodhounds and they only sniff out a specific type of illness, blood cancer.
In one study involving patients, multiple forms of cancer reacted. In patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), 94% of patients’ symptoms completely disappeared. 80% of patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma saw a decrease in cancer symptoms, and more than half of patients with lymphoma saw total remission. Most of the patients had previously been projected to live only two to five months after failing to respond to other forms of treatment.
Since T-cells are a “living drug,” they have the potential to remain in the body for a patient’s entire life. This means that if the cancer reappears anytime after the initial treatment, the T-cells could kill it before the person even knows he or she is infected.
As promising as the studies are, T-cell therapy does not come without its own risks. Immuno-therapies, like this T-cell therapy, are often a last resort because they can come with severe side effects like severe cytokine-release syndrome (sCRS), according to the NIH. sCRS is an overload of defense cells that result in symptoms like fever, nausea, chills among others, which may be life-threatening to some patients.
So far, T-cell therapy has only been found to work on very specific blood cancers, and more work needs to be done to understand the impact on tumors and the long-term effects of such therapy. T-cell therapy is not a cure-all treatment, and will need to be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. Nonetheless, researchers remain optimistic given the promising results of the studies, and they are close to extending the work beyond trials. It’s also a great mile marker for the progress the cancer research community has made in treating the disease.
As advancements continue to be made in cancer treatments, access to healthcare helps to ensure you catch any illness in time for treatment. And the best fight against any illnesses is getting regular screening. Services like SingleCare provide its members with a searchable online database of practices and practitioners to assist you in a time of medical need or even for a regular check-up. Members pay only for the treatments they receive, at negotiated rates similar to an insurance company that save you from paying out-of-pocket prices.