Gene Therapy for Cancer Shows Continued Progress

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Researchers from University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia continue to present hopeful results from gene therapy for leukemia three years after starting clinical trials.

The findings, presented at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting in New Orleans, showed that researchers are successfully turning blood cells into cancer fighting cells.

At least six research groups are trying experimental therapies in which they genetically engineered T cells, a group of the body’s immune cells, to fight leukemia. And the results–which are being tested in more than 120 patients who have blood and bone marrow cancers–are still preliminary but very encouraging.

“It’s really exciting,” Dr. Janis Abkowitz, blood diseases chief at the University of Washington in Seattle and president of the American Society of Hematology, told the Associated Press. “You can take a cell that belongs to a patient and engineer it to be an attack cell.”

The handful of studies detailing the technique were presented at the conference. In one, all five adults and 19 of 22 children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, were in complete remission after their treatment.

While the work is still in the early stages, the scientists are hopeful since the treatments appear to work in patients with very advanced leukemia.