New Leukemia Therapy Cures Girl With Her Own Cells

Emily Whitehead Photo:

In a recent experimental therapy, a child’s leukemia was cured by re-engineering her own cells. By re-arranging the immune cells of a seven-year-old girl living with Leukemia to treat her condition, her doctors could observe no trace of cancer.


Abnormal white blood cells

Dr. Stephan Grupp and his Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia team recruited Emily Whitehead as the first child to participate in a clinical trial known as CTL019, which tests T cell therapy treatment of leukemia. Dr. Grupp and his team presented the CTL019 results at the recent 2012 meeting of the American Society of Hematology last week in Atlanta.

Before being chosen for the trial, Emily had unfortunately relapsed twice after basic chemotherapy. Under the watchful eyes of Dr. Grupp and his team, Emily was treated with a customized version of her very own T cells, which thankfully thrived, multiplied and annihilated her leukemia.

Re-engineered T cells kill cancer cells


During the CTL019 trial, the research team took immune system T cell samples from each participating patient. T cells act as our body’s watchmen, seeking and destroying all dangerous diseased cells. The T cells were modified to specially bind to CD19, a protein located on B cells, a type of blood cell that often becomes cancerous in some cases of leukemia.

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After these B cells become cancerous, T cells normally lose ability to find and destroy them, however the T cells tested in CTL019 are far from normal.  The modified T cells, labeled as “chimeric antigen receptor T cells” are more than capable of tracking these cancerous B cells.  After a touch up, the new and improved T cells are returned to the patient, where they multiply and rapidly search our and combat the cancerous B cells as well as prevent any new cancerous cells from forming.

Only 12 patients have participated in the therapy so far, however researchers say that the results so far are very promising.

While stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, and medical cannabis all offer relief, Emily’s case gives the hopeful prospect of non-overly-invasive and accessible treatment in the near future.