Ghent Universitary Hospital starts leukemia immunotherapy trial

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The Ghent Universitary Hospital will start on November 20 with a new clinical trial for treatment of leukemia; only seven centers in Europe participate in this scientific study. The treatment concerns an innovative form of immunotherapy, in which the white blood cells of young leukemia patients will be genetically engineered to be able to fight tumors. The ill patient is coupled to a machine to collect white blood cells. The T-lymphocytes then receive a piece of genetic information, enabling them to fight cancer cells, after which they are reinjected in the patient.

Many years have been necessary to develop this treatment. It will start under strict scientific supervision and it is only offered to young people, aged 3 to 21 years, in whom chemotherapy was not successful or who had repeated relapses.

“Patients need to be in good physical condition, because even though the prognosis is good, the treatment process itself is not without risks,” says Prof. Fritz Offner of Ghent University Hospital.

“There are serious potential side effects, because the treatment provokes an inflammatory reaction. This can be limited in some people but others may react heavily with high fever. We can always stop the treatment, but the inflammatory response is in part desired. Therefore, a multidisciplinary team closely monitors participants. We won’t try this with patients who are 80 years old.”

At a later stage, this treatment could become the first against acute lymphocytic leukemia. It also has the advantage that it does not result in hair loss. In the coming years, trials with this therapy against other tumors, such as melanoma and lymphoma will probably start.