Science

Leukemia: Cure On The Way? (Video)

By Matthew Klickstein , Mar 21, 2013 12:13 PM EDT
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They're already calling it a "major breakthrough in the fight against cancer." Others believe it may be the miracle they've long been seeking.

Clinical trials of a new treatment have allegedly already left one patient cancer-free after only eight days.

The radical new treatment itself literally employs patients' own immunity cells to fight the scourge of cancer. These immune cells are being genetically altered in order to combat a deadly form of leukemia, according to ABC News.

"This is pretty incredible," ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said in a discussion about the new cancer treatment on Thursday, March 21. "Using a patient's own immune system to fight cancer."

In the ABC News video clip, Dr. Besser directs our attention to an animation depicting how five patients with untreatable cancer were tended to in the clinical trials.

Doctors employed a virus to inject genetic material into the patients' own white cells. This reportedly turns the white cells into "cancer fighters," which go throughout the body to destroy the cancer cells.

All five patients saw their cancers go into remission. They then had bone-marrow transplants and are, according to Dr. Besser, "doing great."

One of the patients under treatment is a sound man at ABC News who credits the treatment with "saving his life."

The reputedly life-saving treatment came to the sound man patient after a summer of chemotherapy left his cancer in remission ... but soon failed to keep the cancer from "bouncing back." That's all changed with the new treatment the sound man has received, which leaves him smiling and happy to be alive.

It was an "overwhelming reaction in his body" and left the sound man without a single cancer cell. He's since had a bone marrow transplant and is "doing well." He is now past the "100-day mark" in remaining cancer-free, according to ABC News.

A young girl, "Emma," was the first patient with this kind of leukemia to be treated back in December and she, too, has now gone into full remission and is "doing great."

This is particularly exciting news about the treatment because, in Dr. Besser's words, "depending on what you inject into these cells, you could target them to go after all different kinds of cancers." In what Dr. Besser refers to as "an endless approach," the treatment could be used on prostate, breast or other cancers, as well.

The current trials were designed as a "safety study," so Dr. Besser said we'll have to wait to see how the treatment works on more people in the future. What researchers need to see is how to "tame this reaction," meaning that the treatment is "basically creating a battle in a person's body: their own cells against the cancer cells to see who wins."

Right now, the trials are in the first round — focusing on the treatment's safety — so researchers are reticent to claim this could replace bone-marrow transplants in the fight against cancer. But if this does prove to wipe out all cancer cells, a bone-marrow transplant would become unnecessary.

The young girl Emma did not need a bone-marrow transplant, and she's fine after the treatment. Adults may react differently, however, and that's why continued studies of the process must be done.

It's an imperative leap in medical science, as Dr. Besser says this kind of leukemia has a 40-percent survival rate. Perhaps we'll soon see another leap, with that percentage number rising to 100.

Like what you're reading? Follow @profklickberg.

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