Findings from research conducted by Abramson Cancer Center (University of Pennsylvania) and Perelman School of Medicine have given hope to the medical fraternity in how they may be able to manage the treatment of leukemia patients by adding to their treatment options.
The research which has spanned across two decades has shown that a group of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients whose disease had progressed to the advanced stages showed sustained improvement in their condition when they were treated with genetically engineered versions of their own T-cells. (1)
This brings us to what T-cells are? T-cells are a type of white blood cells (WBCs) called the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes could be B cells (bone cells) or T-cells (thymus cells).
The T-cells are said to be responsible for giving the body its immune response without the bringing in of antibodies. The defence or immune response is provided through activation of natural killer cells among others, which release various cytokines to destroy the antigen that it encounters in the body.
So what does this new procedural protocol involve? In the study, the researchers removed patient’s T-cells. They then re-programmed these T-cells to attack the tumor cells present in the patient.
Re-programming of the T-Cells was done through adding of a lentivirus vector on the T cells. (Note: Lentiviral vectors are a type of virus that can infect both dividing and non-dividing cells because their virus “shell” can get through the intact membrane of the nucleus of the target cell. Lentiviruses can change the expression of their target cell's gene for up to six months.)
This vector then proceeds to encode a protein called Chimeric Antigen Receptor or CAR which is expressed on the surface of the T-cells and binds to another protein called the CD19. It has been observed during the research that once the T-cells begin to express the CAR, they kill only those cells that express the CD19 protein, which includes chronic lymphocytic leukemia tumor cells and the normal B-cells. (2)
The other good thing about this protocol is summarised by Carl June, MD himself.