Doctors Say Gene Therapy Cured 2 of Cancer

CAR-T cells attacked cancer and stayed in the body of men with leukemia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 2, 2022 7:40 PM CST
Doctors Say Gene Therapy Cured 2 of Cancer
Doug Olson, center foreground, with his family on his 75th birthday.   (Family Photo via AP)

In 2010, doctors treated Doug Olson's leukemia with an experimental gene therapy that transformed some of his blood cells into cancer killers. More than a decade later, there's no sign of cancer in his body. The treatment cured Olson and a second patient, reported University of Pennsylvania doctors, who said it was the first time the therapy had been studied for so long. "I'm doing great right now. I'm still very active. I was running half-marathons until 2018,” said Olson, 75, of Pleasanton, California. "This is a cure. And they don't use the word lightly."

His doctors describe the two cases in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. They say the examples show the treatment, called CAR-T cell therapy, can attack cancer immediately, then stay inside the body for years and evolve to keep the disease at bay. Such so-called "living drugs" are now used by thousands around the world to treat certain blood cancers. Based on 10-year results, "we can now conclude that CAR-T cells can actually cure patients of leukemia," said Dr. Carl June, one of the study's authors. The one-time treatment involves collecting the patient's own T cells, white blood cells key to the immune system, and genetically changing them in the lab so that they will find and attack cancer cells. The modified cells are given back to the patient through IV.

A couple of weeks after the treatment, Olson felt sick for about a week and was hospitalized for three days. "It was the very next week he sat me down and he said, 'We cannot find a single cancer cell in your body,'" Olson recalled. Retired corrections officer Bill Ludwig had similar results. Study author J. Joseph Melenhorst said researchers were able to isolate and analyze the cells using new technologies, which provided insight into how they persisted in the patients’ bodies. Dr. Armin Ghobadi of Washington University in St. Louis, an expert in gene and cellular immunotherapy for cancer, called the findings "incredible." Though the word "cure" is rarely used in cancer, he said these patients were "most likely" cured. "That’s just really beautiful to see," said Ghobadi, who was not involved in the study.

(More gene therapy stories.)

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