Doctors at King’s College Hospital, London, said some patients were being completely cured in a way that had “never been seen before”.
The therapy, called CAR-T, is a “living drug” that is tailor-made for each patient using their body’s own cells.
“It is a very exciting new development and it gives new hope to a lot of our patients,” Victoria Potter, haematologist at King’s College Hospital told the BBC. “It’s amazing to be able to see these people, who you may have not been able to give any hope to, actually achieving remission.”
CAR-T is the pinnacle of personalized medicine as it has to be developed for each individual patient.
Firstly, parts of the immune system – specifically white blood cells called T-cells – are removed from the patient’s blood. They are frozen in liquid nitrogen and sent to laboratories in the United States. There, the white blood cells are genetically reprogrammed so that rather than killing bacteria and viruses, they will seek out and destroy cancer.
Because it’s very new, there’s not enough data to say for sure how effective the new therapy is but clinical trials have shown incredible results. 40 per cent of patients had all signs of their terminal lymphomas removed from their body just 15 months after treatment.
“The start of this treatment marks the beginning of a new era of personalized medicine.”
The treatment is expensive, and comes with potential side-effects. “Patients who receive the treatment can experience a range of unpleasant side effects from high fever; vomiting; and diarrhoea to confusion; aphasia (difficulty understanding or speaking); and loss of consciousnes,” said Dr Reuben Benjamin, Consultant Haematologist at King’s.
Testing cancer vaccines
Study after study over the last several decades has taught doctors that cancer is personal. Everyone’s looks different on a molecular level. And each tumor is an agile, devious adversary that mutates as it grows to outwit the human immune system.”They may be right,” Stephen Johnston says, but “if the chance is 10% that it might work, I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t take that chance.”
Stephen Johnston is a scientist, inventor and director of Arizona State University’s Center for Innovations in Medicine. He recently launched a clinical trial to test a cancer vaccine in hundreds of dogs across the country. The trial will examine whether the vaccine delays or prevents a variety of cancers in healthy, older dogs. If it’s successful, Johnston says, it could lay the groundwork for developing a similar vaccine for humans.
Many canine cancers are also similar to human cancers on a molecular level. This has a lot to do with our shared environments. We breathe the same air, drink the same water, run on lawns sprayed with the same chemicals. Dogs are also ideal for a study like this because they don’t live as long as humans, so researchers will be able to see if the vaccine works in three to five years instead of 10 to 30.
Even if the vaccine works in dogs, the team has a long road ahead to get approval for a human clinical trial. Animal testing is often unpredictable, and the vast majority of drugs tested in animals are never approved by the FDA for use in humans because they are deemed unsafe or ineffective.
This isn’t the only trial involving dogs and cancer vaccines. Many other cancer researchers are working on these experimental procedures and if they are successful, we could be dealing cancer a deadly blow and for once get the upper hand in the fight against that dreaded decease.