HOPE FROM THE CANCER FRONT
Welcome Everyone to another #Factual Friday! And, today we’ve got some really good news to share from the cancer front. There’s a new therapy that may give much needed hope to many patients who may have been labeled “incurable” by the medical establishment.
Now, this experimental therapy applies to those who have been diagnosed with a variety of blood cancers, including lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Indeed, in studies the treatment has achieved what bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy have failed to do. And, the really wonderful part of this therapy is that it harnesses the body’s own immune system and uses its natural defense system to attack cancer cells.
So, let’s review for just a second. If you recall, our bodies have a wonderful type of hardworking cell called a T cell. We refer to T cells as the first responders to any site in our body that comes under attack by foreign invaders such as viruses or bacteria. In essence, they are the worker bees of the human immune system – detecting and destroying harmful agents entering our healthy body cells.
Unfortunately, as hard as our T cells work to defend our bodies from attack, it’s difficult for them to effectively fight cancers. And, this is a two-part problem. First, cancer cells are devious. They actually can trick our T cells into thinking they are not cancers at all and that they are really healthy, friendly cells in no need of aggressive attention. Second, cancer cells typically grow too fast for our T cells to mount an effective defense quickly in order to wipe them out.
But with this new therapy, both of these issues are being addressed. Essentially, T cells have gone back to school and they are being trained – or primed — to recognize the bad guys more quickly. As a result, the cancer cells have less time to grow and multiply. This means that these harmful cells have a decreased chance of invading healthy body tissue, which can then force the cancer into remission.
Resulting from a 10-year collaboration between Dr. Stanley Riddell of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and Dr. Michael Jensen of Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, this is how the therapy works. First, T cells are extracted from a cancer patient. This is done by taking a simple blood sample. The T cells are then isolated and over a period of a few weeks, they are linked to synthetic receptors called chimeric antigen receptors. Once this link is completed, the T cells have a greater ability to identify cancer cells. It’s much like acquiring a new radar system designed to detect an enemy.
Of course, the term chimeric comes from the word chimaera, which in Greek mythology refers to a hybrid creature part lion, goat and snake. In science, it refers to a combination of different zygotes or DNA to form genetically engineered tissue – in this case, really smart T cells.
And, the results of testing so far have been amazing. In one group of 29 patients with constantly recurring or previously incurable acute lymphoblastic leukemia, 93 percent went into complete remission after undergoing the therapy. In another group of 30 patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 65 percent also went into remission. This is especially encouraging as conventional treatments like chemotherapy and allogeneic bone marrow transplants failed to help the participants in both studies.
So far the T cell therapy has only been used on patients with blood cancers. It has not been used on patients with solid tumors resulting from cancers like those of the breast, colon or prostate. And, this is an important distinction because solid tumors create their own private micro-environments that can de-activate a T cell and suppress its immune system function. But, Dr. Riddell and his associates are extremely hopeful that these new smart T cells will adapt and find a way to work effectively even within the micro-environment of a solid tumor.
The wonderful thing about cancer research is that whatever is experimental today may be commonplace tomorrow. It offers promise and hope to many cancer patients who as yet – may still be looking for that miracle. Perhaps, this is it.
Many thanks to Dr. Riddell and Dr. Jensen for their tireless work. And, many thanks to YOU for joining me again. Until next time, stay in GOOD HEALTH and,
TAKE THE COURSE AND TAKE CHARGE!