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B.C’s Cutting-Edge Cancer Research

By July 18, 2017No Comments

The news of a breakthrough cancer treatment that reprograms a patient’s DNA has refocused attention on similar research being done in B.C.

12 year old Emily Whitehead is alive today because of experimental cancer treatment that put her leukemia into remission when nothing else could. It’s called CAR-T therapy developed in the United States. Now the BC Cancer Agency is preparing for clinical trials in this country.

“It’s a way to medically engineer a patient’s own immune cells, so that they target the ytumor cells that they would otherwise be ignoring.”

In other words, the cancer cells responsible for leukemia and lymphoma. The body’s immune cells, called T cells, ignore the cancer because they can’t find it.

“Even though the mutations in cancer make the cells foreign, they still appear much like your own healthy cells”.

CAR-T therapy extracts the patient’s own healthy cells, genetically engineers them so they can recognize the cancer, then returns them to the patient.

“It’s a much more targeted, much more selective therapy, although there still can be fairly severe side effects”.

Even so, of the 300 terminal patients in the US who received the therapy, with Whitehead being the first, 50-90% went into remission. Now in the BC Cancer Agency’s Holt lab, they’re gearing up for their own clinical trials.

“Manufacturing DNA. So they’re making lots and lots of copies of the piece of DNA that’s being used to modify a patient’s T cells”.

They hope to begin clinical trials in 2019. Those eligible will be blood cancer patients who have exhausted all other therapies without success.

“There’s an element of excitement among the team and within the field that I haven’t seen in a very long time.”