It may be a shaky time for politics right now, with things changing in swift order, but the medical field is having a pretty good go of it. Case in point? Back in October, British doctors conducted what appears to be successful treatment of a 44-year-old HIV patient, suggesting they very well might have found a cure. Now, a case published in Science Translational Medicine suggests that British doctors have also discovered what could potentially be a cure for human cancer (which, BTW, did you know exercise can help you prevent?). WHOA.
While further research has yet to be conducted, a study of two infant babies with leukemia that were subject to a combination of what is known as CAR T cell therapy (which involves removing specialized immune cells from the blood, arming those cells with sensor receptors called CARs that would attach to and destroy tumor cells and reinserting them back into the bloodstream) and a gene-editing technique called TALENS have now been cancer-free for 16 and 18 months, respectively.
Technically, it’s not long enough to deem them “cured,” as it’s a term usually reserved for when someone has been disease free for several years or more. The addition of the TALENS technique, however, shows great promise as a solution to current limitations with CAR T cell therapy and introduces some exciting new possibilities.
Previously, CAR T (chimeric antigen receptor T cell) had been used as a standalone treatment in active phase II clinical US trials, as well as trials in the UK and China, with plans for therapy treatments set for as early as this year. While it has seen success, particularly for leukemia in younger patients, it requires a custom set of T cells to be made for each patient, which is not only costly, but time-consuming. It’s also nearly impossible should a patient be lacking in enough healthy cells to arm with CAR sensor receptors.
Doctors in this new case took T cells from healthy donors and made four genetic changes that would enable their cells to be used in any single person, sick or otherwise, without rejection, eliminating both the need for custom-made cells and the lack of healthy ones in patients with more severe illnesses.
Some remain skeptical of the success seen in the infant case, as they were also being simultaneously treated with other methods, including chemotherapy and stem cell transplant therapy, making it necessary for additional studies to be conducted. As one expert, Stephan Grupp, a director of cancer immunotherapy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told MIT Tech Review, “There is a hint of efficacy but no proof. It would be great if it works, but that just hasn’t been shown yet.”
Still, it’s enough to have us excited at the possibility of a future free of cancer — what a world that would be!
Does this new study have you hopeful for the possibilities of modern medicine? Share with us @BritandCo.
(h/t Futurism, photos via Anne Sophie-Bott, Nicola Tree + Rafe Swan/ Getty)