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Scientists Report That CAR-T Therapy Patients Have Remained Free of Cancer for 10 Years Since Treatment

Imagine going into a laboratory and having cells taken from your body so they can be improved upon with genetic engineering to help you fight off a deadly disease.

A report from University of Pennsylvania researchers provides some encouraging news to cancer patients and their loved ones. Scientists at the university, in collaboration with researchers at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Massachusetts, published the results of their study in Nature.

They showed that patients who have undergone treatment with CAR-T therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia have remained cancer-free one decade after first being treated, as pointed out by RegMedNet.

It’s a remarkable development. RegMedNet reports that Martin Pule, director of the UCL Cancer Institute CAR-T cell program in London, UK, says, “A decade ago, CAR-T cell therapy was a therapeutic approach explored by a very small number of scientists and was considered a fringe approach and unlikely to work.”

But now, Pule explains that the paper published in Nature demonstrates that using CAR-T therapy can help patients go into remission when standard chemotherapy is no longer able to respond to their blood cancer.

How Does CAR-T Therapy Work?

CAR-T therapy (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy) involves a technician collecting T cells from the patient under a doctor’s supervision. Then, it’s time to genetically re-engineer the T cells in a laboratory setting, so they will know how to target tumors. The cure is based on the patient’s own cells being modified.

Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy is the result of more than 60 years of laboratory research. Work began in the 1950s when scientists learned how to conduct bone marrow transplants. These transplants represented the first instance when doctors infused living cells into patients to control their blood cancer.

By 1987, scientists created the first chimeric antigen receptor, which included a piece of an antibody that helped it focus on a patient’s tumors. After binding to tumor cells, the CAR-T cells quickly reproduce to kill all cancer cells nearby.

What’s of particular importance to the scientists in Pennsylvania is that CAR-T cells are capable of persisting in a patient’s body for many years. They remain as vigilant guards, protecting against any new tumor cells that appear.

According to Penn Medicine News, the Nature study is a record of the “longest persistence of CAR-T cell therapy” in history for combatting chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The first author of the study, J. Joseph Melenhorst, Ph.D., serves as a research professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the university, said, “This long-term remission is remarkable, and witnessing patients living cancer-free is a testament to the tremendous potency of this ‘living drug’ that works effectively against cancer cells.”

Melenhorst added that he and his colleagues find that the excellent response of these patients makes their efforts feel worthwhile, “being able to give them more time to live and to spend it with loved ones.”

Progressing Beyond Chemotherapy With CAR-T Therapy

Chemotherapy is known for the unpleasant side effects it can induce in patients, who then have to recover from the treatment process itself. Advances in CAR-T therapy show that individuals suffering from certain types of blood cancers can be cured of their disease and then remain free of cancer for at least ten years following the first course of treatment.

That’s a significant sign of progress that should motivate scientists to continue with their experimental research to further refine the technique. With each success comes encouragement that other therapies will come online in the years to come to aid doctors in combatting other problematic diseases.

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