Immunotherapy: Reprograming “Killer T-Cells” to become Terminators

killer-t-cellsA new therapy which works by retraining the body’s own immune system to battle cancer has created a stir in the cancer research world when it was revealed that in a study over 90% of patients whom were determined to be terminally ill had gone into remission instead.

Immunotherapy is the treatment of a disease by utilizing the body’s own immune system by either magnifying or stopping an immune response. Immunotherapies that create an immune system response are called Activation Immunotherapies. Immunotherapies that restrict or halt an immune system response are called Suppression Immunotherapies.

This news leaked out to the American Association of the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting which took place in Washington DC. Leading scientist say that this is but a small step, and there have been setbacks as 2 patients whom had blood cells taken from then, modified, and put back in their bodies, died from what was called an “extreme immune system response”. As a rejoinder it must be pointed out that these two patients had exhausted all other treatments and had but months to live.

Still, the early data coming in is very impressive. During the trials “Killer T-Cells” which are cells found in the immune system were removed from several dozen patients. They were then genetically altered and these modified “Killer T-Cells” were specifically engineered with a new targeting mechanism to direct their attacks – Chimeric Antigen Receptors which direct “Killer T-Cells” to specifically target Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Think of it this way… the “Killer T-Cells” are kind of like “The Terminator” but reprogrammed with a different mission. The “Killer T-Cells” are the equivalent of killer robots that scientist have been able to reprogram (like a computer) to acquire a new target. I know somewhere a scientist is cringing reading this, but it is a pretty dead-on description.

But, the process is not out of the woods yet, and there is skepticism in the scientific community. Many of the patients in the study had exhausted all other treatment options, but… one treatment using this methodology put more than 90% of those participating in full remission, with no Leukemia cells being able to be detected. But 7 of those patients suffered a Cytokine Release Syndrome so severe they went straight to the ICU. Cytokine Release Syndrome occurs when cytokines are released by Activated T-Cells and this creates a systematic inflammatory response.

As yet these results have not been published in any scientific journal, and it should be noted that this technique is particular to cancers of the blood, and it has yet to be determined how this technique could be applied to “solid cancers”, cancers where the cancer is in “tissue” not the blood stream.

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