The most exciting news today is about some research performed at the University of Pennsylvania where researchers took blood from the three leukemia patients and isolated the T cells, a type of immune cell in the blood. T cells recognize invading organisms and kill them, however they do not recognize cancer cells as invading cells, after all cancer is our own cells growing out of control and not responding to their programmed death. After modifying the T cells they injected the modified cells back into the patients.

The cells wiped out the leukemia cells. After one year two of the patients still have no sign of cancer cells and one patient’s cells remain at very low levels! This is remarkable news that holds out great hope for the future of the treatment of leukemia patients.

Adding to the interest, especially for those of us with advanced prostate cancer is that the mechanism used in this experimental treatment protocol sounds like Dendreon’s Provenge. Obviously, the treatment is different, but the delivery system and the modification of T cells mirror the Provenge process. In the leukemia treatment the T cells were modified by the addition of a gene, in Provenge the T cells are modified by an addition of a protein.

Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center, City of Hope, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (see their video here), and the National Cancer Institute, that are also actively working on similar approaches. Memorial also has an active phase I trial going on evaluating this type of gene therapy with men with chemotherapy (Taxotere) refractory prostate cancer. The rumor mill also says that there might be more good news about this form of gene therapy as early as next week.

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.