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Gene Therapy Could be Effective Against Cancers

Update Date: Dec 09, 2013 09:49 AM EST

Even though cancers can be cured when detected early on, going through chemotherapy treatment and or surgery can take a toll on a patient's physical and mental health. In addition, these treatment options might not work for all patients. Due to the side effects of these treatment options, researchers have studied different potential ways of treating cancers. In a new study, researchers reported that gene therapy showed promise in being able to treat blood cancers.

"It's really exciting," Dr. Janis Abkowitz, blood diseases chief at the University of Washington in Seattle and president of the American Society of Hematology, said reported by HealthDay. "You can take a cell that belongs to a patient and engineer it to be an attack cell."

In gene therapy, the researchers have to filter each patient's blood so that they could remove white blood cells called T-cells. The researchers then modify the T-cells with a gene so that these cells would attack cancer cells. Many companies are venturing into developing these types of cancer therapies. A clinical trial that is starting next year could result in a federal approval of this kind of treatment by 2016. Early estimates report that gene therapy costs around $25,000 per patient without a profit margin. The therapy has side effects that include flu-like symptoms.

So far, the researchers reported that 120 patients with varying types of blood and bone marrow cancers from different trials have received gene therapy. Many of these patients have gone into remission for up to three years. In one trial, the researchers revealed that all five adult patients and 19 out of 22 children patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) who were treated had been cleared of their cancer. Only a few have relapsed after the study was done. In another study, 15 out of 32 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) had responded to the treatment at the beginning of the study with seven patients achieving complete remission.

Other studies have been conducted by researchers from the Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor University. The researchers reported that the patients from all of the trials did not have many options left.

"Our findings show that the human immune system and these modified 'hunter' cells are working together to attack tumors in an entirely new way," research leader Dr. Carl June, professor in immunotherapy in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine and director of translational research at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, said.

The findings were presented at the American Society of Hematology's meeting that took place in New Orleans, LA.

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