Organ transplant patients who develop cancer may be helped by a treatment that uses blood cells to attack their tumor.
University of Edinburgh researchers have generated a bank of white blood cells from healthy blood donors to treat patients with a blood cancer called post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD).
The study found that patients treated with these blood cells - called ‘killer’ T cells - remained free from the cancer for up to 9 years following treatment.
Organ transplants and cancer
PTLD is associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpes virus that is carried by more than 90 per cent of the population and better known for causing glandular fever.
In most individuals the virus does not cause any illness but it can cause tumors in transplant patients.
This is because their immune systems are heavily suppressed to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ.
Up to 10 per cent of transplant patients may develop the cancer in the first few years following transplant and around 50 per cent of those will die even with standard treatment.
'Killer' T Cells
T cells are a type of white blood cell that patrol the body identifying and killing virus infected cells.
A team at the University's Centre for Infectious Diseases grew T cells in the laboratory and gave them to PTLD patients for 1 month.
The T cells were programmed to find and kill the virus-infected tumor cells to reduce or eradicate the tumor.
A total of 33 PTLD patients who had not responded to standard treatments were treated in a Cancer Research UK-funded trial.
Around half the treated patients showed a good response after 6 months.
This latest study shows that 90 per cent of those who responded initially have remained cancer free for between 4 and 9 years.
The long term survival rate was significantly better in the 6-month responder group compared to the 6-month non-responder group.
Illustration: Microsoft clipart.
University of Edinburgh News Release (07/16/10)
Medical News Today (07/29/10)
Abstract (Transplantation; Vol. 90, Issue 1, 93-94 (07/15/10))