Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 17th 2016 Contents A24
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, February 17, 2016
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
A therapy that retrains the body s immune system
to fight cancer has provoked excitement after more
than 90 per cent of terminally ill patients reportedly
went into remission.
White blood cells were taken from patients with
leukaemia, modified in the lab and then put back.
But the data has not been published or reviewed
and two patients are said to have died from an extreme
immune response. Experts said the trial was exciting,
but still only a baby step.
The news bubbled out of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science s annual meeting in
The lead scientist, Prof Stanley Riddell from the
Fred Hutchinson Cancer research Centre in Seattle,
said all other treatments had failed in these patients
and they had only two-to-five months to live.
He told the conference that: "The early data is
In the trial, cells from the immune system called
killer t-cells were taken out of dozens of patients.
The cells normally act like bombs destroying infected
tissue. The researchers genetically modified the T-
cells to engineer a new targeting mechanism---with
the technical name of chimeric antigen receptors---
to target acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Prof Riddell told the BBC: "Essentially what this
process does is it genetically reprograms the T-cell
to seek out and recognise and destroy the patient s
"[The patients] were really at the end of the line
in terms of treatment options and yet a single dose
of this therapy put more than 90 per cent of these
patients in complete remission where we can t detect
any of these leukaemia cells."
But one cancer expert told me they still felt in the
dark on the full significance of the study as the data
is not available.
Also seven of the patients developed cytokine
release syndrome so severe that they required intensive
care and a further two patients died.
While those odds may be acceptable if facing ter-
minal cancer, the side-effects are much greater than
conventional leukaemia treatments such as
chemotherapy and radiotherapy which work in the
majority of patients.
There is also a big difference between using such
approaches on a blood cancer like leukaemia and
Excitement at new cancer treatment
In the tests, the process genetically reprograms the T-cell to seek out and
recognise and destroy the patient's tumour cells.
"solid" tumours such as breast cancer.
Dr Alan Worsley, from Cancer Research UK, said
that while the field was incredibly exciting, "this is
a baby step".
He told the BBC: "We ve been working for a while
using this type of technology, genetically engineering
cells. So far it s really shown some promise in this
type of blood cancer. We should say that in most
cases standard treatment for blood cancer is quite
effective, so this is for those rare patients where that
hasn t worked." (BBC)
The World Health Organization (WHO) has
backed trials of genetically modified (GM) mosqui-
toes that could be used in the fight against the Zika
The WHO also said sterile irradiated male mos-
quitoes could also be released to mate with wild
females. However, environmentalists have warned
over the possible consequences of wiping out an
Zika has been linked to microcephaly in babies,
who are born with damaged brains and abnormally
In a statement, the WHO said it was encouraging
affected countries "to boost the use of both old and
new approaches to mosquito control as the most
immediate line of defence".
Initial trials using genetically modified mosquitoes
developed by Oxitec, the British subsidiary of Intrexon,
have been taking place in the Cayman Islands and
Brazil. The mosquitoes are altered so that their off-
spring will die before reaching adulthood and being
able to reproduce.
Another technique under consideration involves
releasing male mosquitoes that have been sterilised
by low doses of radiation.
It has already been used by the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) to control insects that damage
crops. A third option uses Wolbachia bacteria, which
do not infect humans but prevent the eggs of infected
female mosquitoes from hatching. (BBC)
WHO backs GM
mosquito trials for Zika
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