Dramatic results from a new cancer treatment trial are being called "a huge accomplishment—huge," and could mean a breakthrough in treating a common type of leukemia and potentially a range of other cancers. University of Pennsylvania scientists basically turned patients' T cells into leukemia-killing machines by modifying a virus so that it would cause the T cells to bind with and destroy leukemia cells. When the T cells were injected with the virus and then re-entered the patients, each one killed at least 1,000 cancer cells. Some experts believe other cancers—including blood, breast, and colon—could utilize the same type of treatment.
Not only did the T cells eradicate the cancer cells, they also multiplied greatly, survived for months, and produced "memory" T cells that could awaken from dormancy if the cancer comes back. Two of the three patients studied, all of whom suffered from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, have stayed cancer-free for more than a year, the Los Angeles Times reports. The "very potent" therapy does include side effects, but bone marrow transplants—previously the only treatment for this type of leukemia—can also be very dangerous. An alternate treatment using a patient's own immune system, such as this one, is "kind of a holy grail," says one doctor. (Read more leukemia stories.)