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A Leukemia Breakthrough: 5 Things You Need To Know

A Leukemia Breakthrough: 5 Things You Need To Know

Scientists have announced a potential major breakthrough in the treatment of an aggressive form of adult Leukemia, but the results are tentative. Here are five things you need to know.

1) What Is The Potential Breakthrough in Leukemia Treatment?

The treatment involves fighting an acute form of leukemia (acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL) that is usually lethal in adults. The treatment uses a form of gene therapy that alters the patient’s own immune system so that the immune system attacks the cancer.

Specifically, the T-cells were extracted from the patient and primed to target CD19, a protein present in all ALL cells. The cells were then reintroduced.

The five patients to receive this groundbreaking treatment, aged between 23-66, had all been diagnosed with ALL and, after previously being in remission after intensive chemotherapy, were looking at certain death if they did not receive bone marrow transplants. However, the patients needed to be in remission before they could receive said transplants, something that for many was now an impossibility as they simply were not strong enough to endure another bout of chemo.

This is where the CD19-targeted T cell treatment offered some hope, as it was hoped it could eradicate ALL long enough for patients to achieve remission.


2) Was the CD-19 Targeting Leukemia Treatment Successful?

Five adult patients who had ALL achieved complete and rapid remissions following the CD19-targeting treatment.

Three of the five adults to receive this treatment have been in remission for 5-24 months.

However, two of the adults later died. One died of a blood clot following a bone marrow transplant.

More significantly, the other died of a relapse (though the patient, unlike the others, was unable to have the usual bone marrow transplant).

As implied above, the survivors have all gone on to have bone marrow transplants and remain in remission, though relapse is still possible.


3) What Are The Side Effects of the CD-19 Targeting Treatment?

While manageable, the side effects were potentially life threatening.

Administering primed T-cells created what doctors referred to as a “cytokine storm,” spiking a patient’s fever to 105 degrees. The hormone rush also caused blood pressure to plummet and heart rate to shoot up to dangerous levels. This was managed with close monitoring in intensive care and a steroid treatment.


4) Is This an ALL Cure or Does Further Work Still Need to Be Done?

To be clear, this treatment is in its infancy and studies are ongoing.

Researchers do not know if the treatment will cause any long term side effects (though this is unlikely) and they do not yet know the true longevity of the treatment, that is to say, how long-lasting its eradication of ALL can be.

Studies will now need to be carried out on larger samples of patients to ascertain whether the benefit translates on a wider scale and, in particular, which adults respond best to this kind of treatment (for instance, if the treatment works better among younger adult patients).

It also remains to be seen whether the treatment could mean that subsequent bone marrow transplants were unnecessary. They were offered for ethical reasons, that bone marrow transplants are the regular course of treatment and to deny them to patients who might be facing death would have been wrong. However, as the treatment eradicated all traces of active ALL, it may be that the bone marrow transplant wasn’t needed.

The importance of this very small breakthrough cannot be underestimated, with Carl June, a cancer researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study, telling the Wall Street Journal a definitive summary on the study’s value: “This has the potential to increase the number of people who would be cured.”

5) Who Carried Out The Study and Where Can I Find More Information?

The study was carried out by Dr. Renier J. Brentjens, specialist in leukemia at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and a team who hold a patent on the engineered T-cell receptor.

Study sponsors include the National Cancer Institute and Sloan-Kettering.

The findings are reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Image credit: Thinkstock.

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10:55AM PDT on Jun 2, 2013


8:03PM PDT on May 26, 2013

Wow - the medical community has come a long way on this since 1996.

7:25AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

Interesting info...will be interested to see how it all progresses as more research is done in this area.

8:43PM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

I made mention early on these two issues. (1)To those who wish to learn more about how the pill was developed using both, Puerto Rican women and Haitian women as guinea pigs during the 1950’s these are just a few of the references in existence over this
(2) Dr. Cornelius Rhoads was involved in injecting cancer cells to Puerto Ricans during the 1930’s while he did research in the island. Subsequently, the American Association for Cancer Research removed his name off the memorial award given for outstanding performance in cancer research.’s-confession-of-multiple-murder...
Also the book by Pedro Aponte Vazquez:The Unsolved Case of Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads: An Indictment.

6:17PM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

A small 'break through' with huge hope for the future!

1:48PM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

Sounds promising yet still a lot of of "unknowns" left to be determined. Great article though. Thanks so much for sharing. I have a nephew with leukemia so hearing about new research that shows promise is always nice to read.

6:58AM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

Lynda, I'll e-mail you the details of our dinner and what we discussed. Much was family stuff, but I was surprised at how comfortable she was discussing her reconstructive surgery, showing me the scars, etc. Very beautiful and very brave woman!

6:56AM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

Done, Lynda! There are enough gullible people in Care2 and charletans like this guy knows it and takes advantage of them. When cancer is mentioned, people will be desperate enough to try anything.

Talking to my "long-lost" niece (hadn't seen her for 16 years) at dinner Friday and she's dealing with having had a double mastectomy 6 months ago. Her Mom, my sister died of cancer, so of course, it's a concern. My niece has SUCH a positive attitude, though! We had lots of things to discuss.

12:49AM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

Those who are ill and vulnerable, or worried about your health, do not fall for the spam below from "Louis H". It’s a ‘get rich quick’ scheme - one of many run by this despicable snake oil salesman.

10:33PM PDT on Mar 26, 2013

Sounds like solid progress :-)

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