What if people's immune cells could battle cancer like they fight off the common cold? Researchers at three US cancer centers are testing just such an idea by reprogramming the T-cells of cancer patients to destroy cancer cells—and it's working remarkably well, CNN reports. "This is absolutely one of the more exciting advances I've seen in cancer therapy in the last 20 years," said David Porter, a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania. "We've entered into a whole new realm of medicine."
The Penn study numbers are small but encouraging: Of 37 adult leukemia patients, 12 went into remission, eight into partial remission, and the rest saw improvements. Of 21 pediatric cases, 18 went into complete remission with pretty low relapse rates. The treatment does give patients flu-like symptoms, but that seems a small price to pay. And doctors say that reprogrammed T-cells are surviving in patients for more than 3 years. Could this be the future? "Our hope is that this can progress really quite quickly," said Porter. "It won't be available to everyone next year, but I don't think it would take a decade, either."