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Engineered T-Cells can Fight Post-Transplant Viruses

Update Date: Jun 26, 2014 01:05 PM EDT

Successful transplants can be the difference between life and death. According to a new study, scientists from Baylor College of Medicine have devised a way to boost the success rate of transplants. The team reportedly engineered T-cells, which are cells belonging to the immune system, to fight five viruses that typically attack the immune system after bone marrow transplants.

"There's a huge need for this therapy, given the huge problem viruses are in immunocompromised patients," said Ann Leen, a Baylor pediatrics professor and one of the study's principal investigators, reported by the Houston Chronicle.

In the study, the researchers tested a new type of immunotherapy. They focused on T-cells, which are cells that fight off viral infections in healthy people. When people get sick with diseases, such as leukemia or lymphoma, chemotherapy or radiation can wipe out the amount of T-cells in the body. The compromised immune system can no longer fight off other viruses, such as those that arise after life-saving bone marrow transplants. In order to prevent these viruses from attacking the body, the team used live viruses to stimulate T-cells.

In this new therapy, the scientists took T-cells from 11 bone marrow donors and stimulated them to target the Epstein-Barr virus, adenovirus, cytomegalovirus, BK virus and human herpes virus 6. The T-cells were grown in cultures and then injected into the patients who had received bone marrow transplants. Eight of them had suffered from up to four infections from these viruses while three were infections-free.

The researchers found that the T-cell therapy had a 94 percent response rate. For the people with infections, 15 out of the 18 viral infections were completely killed by the therapy. Another two of the infections were reduced by at least one-half. For the three people with no infections who were considered high risk of being infected, the T-cell therapy helped prevent infections from occurring.

"It's just very, very hard and very expensive to generate cells from each transplant donor against each virus," Dr. John Barrett with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) commented reported by the San Francisco Gate. Dr. Barrett was not apart of this study. "What this is showing is that you can make T cells against a series - and these are the most important viruses that we deal with - and you can make enough of these T cells to make a difference."

The study, "Activity of Broad-Spectrum T Cells as Treatment for AdV, EBV, CMV, BKV, and HHV6 Infections after HSCT," was published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine

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