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Blood cancer breakthrough could be start for new therapy

11th August 2021

Our researchers in Italy have discovered a new way to treat acute leukaemia by engineering immune cells taken from healthy donors and using them to target and destroy blood cancer cells. The team hope this could be the start for a brand new way to treat leukaemia in the future.

Acute leukaemia is a group of blood cancers that affect both children and adults. While many patients are successfully treated, up to 3 in 10 patients will eventually see their disease return. Once it comes back, people with acute leukaemia often have a poor prognosis and effective therapies are lacking.

One treatment approach for acute leukaemia is the transfer of T cells – a type of immune cell – from a healthy donor to the patient. However, this treatment comes with risks and sometimes donated T cells can end up attacking the patient’s body, leading to a potentially fatal “Graft-versus-Host Disease”.

Our researchers, led by Dr Dr Giulia Casorati in Italy, have now found a way to engineer donated T cells so that they can attack cancer cells without the risk of attacking other healthy cells. They also tested their newly engineered cells in mice, showing that they were able to delay disease progression and inhibit tumour growth in three different types of leukaemia.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications and is available to read online for free.

Casorati Dr Giulia Casorati, cancer researcher from San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan
Our research shows a new treatment strategy that has not been described before. We are now investigating two important aspects that will improve the safety and the efficacy of this therapeutic strategy. We hope to be able to define a new alternative immunotherapeutic strategy that can complement the existing ones, to broaden the options given to patients that may fail after a treatment.
Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive, Worldwide Cancer Research
Immunotherapies are an exciting and promising area of research. While they can achieve impressive results in some patients, many still miss out on the potential benefits of this treatment. Starting new cancer cures like this one offers hope to patients and their families by paving the way for immunotherapies to reach their full potential.

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