A UCSD research team has found a promising way to attack chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common form of adult leukemia in the United States.
Dr. Thomas Kipps (pictured), deputy director of research at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center in La Jolla, injected six leukemia patients with a gene therapy vaccine developed at the University of California San Diego.
The therapy helped three patients make antibodies against their leukemia cells, Kipps and his colleagues said. The researchers extracted some of these antibodies and mixed them in test tubes with leukemia cells from 70 other people.
The antibodies again attacked the leukemia cells. Kipps and his team determined that a protein found only on the surface of leukemia cells reacted with the antibodies.
“The result raises hope that it may be possible to activate patients' immune systems against their own cancer,” Kipps said.
He said the study is exciting because it may lead to a method for identifying and combating leukemia cells in the earliest stage of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, when it is more treatable.
“We can also use it to identify any residual leukemia cells that remain after treatment,” Kipps said. “If not controlled, they would make the disease return over time.”
The Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research Consortium at UCSD is the largest group of its kind west of Houston, Texas, Kipps said. Its experts have treated thousands of patients worldwide and are tracking 4,000.
More than 15,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia each year, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The disease is characterized by abnormal growth of lymphocytes in the marrow and lymph nodes, growth that crowds out normal blood-forming cells. Leukemia cells cannot fight off an infection like normal lymphocytes.
Symptoms of the disease include fatigue, shortness of breath, swollen lymph nodes and repeated infections.
Illustration: University of San Diego, California.
University of San Diego, California Press Release (02/12/08)
Biology News Net (02/11/08)
Medical News Today (02/12/08)
Abstract (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, Vol. 105, No. 8, 3047-3052 (02/26/08))