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New Treatment Showing Promise for Leukemia

Emily Whitehead is a 7 year old little girl that has been blessed with a new beginning in life. Emily was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 5. She did not benefit from chemotherapy treatment and her family eventually turned to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

While at the hospital, Whitehead started leukemia treatment and given a doses of her own T-cells, which had been removed from her body, and then engineered to attack leukemia cells. At first, things looked bleak as she has a severe reaction to the treatment. Just when her family were preparing themselves for the worst, doctors treated her with a drug for the reaction and she made a dramatic improvement. All traces of leukemia were now non-existent, even when tested with the most sensitive testing techniques. Emily has been cancer-free for eight months. After two years of being leukemia-free, the Emily will be able to be declared cured, even though that is not a word that doctors are comfortable with right now. Still…it’s an amazing feat and opens the door to a new world of treatment to cancers such as leukemia.

The experimental leukemia treatment utilizes the body’s own T-cell immune cells to target cancer cells and eradicate them from the body. Although it is only in its testing phase, researchers have 10 adults and 2 children undergoing the treatment, and both of the pediatric patients are improving. Overall, 9 out of 10 patients have shown positive results.

Dr. Stephen Grupp at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has led the way in a new immunotherapy technique in a trial process called CART 19. The therapy is designed to treat patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common cancer in childhood.

The T-cells engineered by Grupp and his researchers attack the cancer cells. Under normal conditions, T-cells are blind to cancer cells. But, by engineering the T-cell to track a specific protein on the B-cell associated with leukemia, Grupp pioneered a new antibody against the disease. Once engineered, the new T-cells are able to effectively attack and destroy the leukemia cells.

Sounds like good news? But, there’s more! According to a presentation at the Pediatric Cancer Summit, Grupp offered new research that claims that the engineered T-cells remain in the patient’s body even after all the B-cells have been destroyed, giving a longer lasting protection against relapse for leukemia.

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