In what could be heralded as one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer therapy to date, researchers reported that patients’ own immune cells could be used effectively to treat their condition.
The most recent trial involving 35 patients suffering from blood cancers, resulted in more than 90% effectively going into remission following conclusion of the study, an occurrence like never before.
These findings were presented at the American Association for the Advancement for Science conference, held over the weekend of February 14th.
How Was This Feat Accomplished?
The treatment modality involved the use of a method called Immunotherapy; whereby the patient’s own Immune system T-Cells, are removed from their body, reprogrammed and reintroduced with the cancer as the target.
In essence, the principle is the same as a vaccination; an agent is programmed with the target of a particular cell/pathogen in mind, and works to stimulate the production of anti-bodies against that target. So, the cancer cells are then seen as invading foreign bodies, and are handled appropriately by the body’s own immune system.
However, one key point of note is the fact that this early trial was only targeted to patients with a specific type of blood cancer, known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia. If the effects can be replicated on other cancers is yet to be seen
Although scientists and researchers have been experimenting with immunotherapy for years, it is only recently been attempted to modify these T-cells. In addition, due to the highly experimental nature of the procedure, only patients suffering from end term cancer with just a few months left to live were part of the study, or those refractive to common medications used to treat the condition.
Is Modified T-Cell Immunotherapy For Everyone?
Unfortunately, from the looks of things currently, no it will not become cookie-cutter therapy anytime soon. For the time being, it is reserved for patients with the most severe forms of cancer, who have stopped responding to common treatment modalities, and who only have one last resort left.
In addition, a very strong argument why it will not become a common treatment modality (at this time) is because of its severe side effect profile.
What Are The Likely Drawbacks Of T-Cell Therapy?
Primarily, the major drawback of using modified T-cell therapy is the high incidence of side effects. In the most recent study undertaken, out of a total 35 participants, 20 were subject to severe side effects, including fever, neurotoxicity and hypotension (low blood pressure)
In addition, the study is currently awaiting publication approval from peer-reviewed bodies, so until that happens, and the effects can be reliably replicated, it may not become a mainstay anytime soon.
What Does The Future Hold?
Researchers are optimistic that they can apply the new discovery to other cancer types as well, in addition to ensuring that the patient remains in remission for life.
When those feats are successfully pulled off, along with improving and minimizing possible side effects, then and only then, may the revolutionary breakthrough in cancer treatment become global.