Immunotherapy for leukaemia
Immunotherapy works by strengthening the body's own immune system so that it eliminates cancer cells naturally. The aim is for the immune system to attack the cancer cells in the way we want and also to detect if they reproduce and become active again.
The group is working along various lines of research in this field. Three of the most notable ones are:
1. Checkpoint inhibitors. Checkpoints are the signals that cancer cells send to the immune cells to avoid being attacked. The aim is to inhibit this signal so that the immune cell recovers its anti-cancer function. The group is tying to develop drugs that will act on this signal. This line of research has started with an emphasis on Hodgkin's lymphoma and other lymphomas, such as melanoma.
2. Natural cell death mechanisms directed against cancer cells. The group is working on the laboratory stimulation of natural killer, or NK, cells in umbilical cord blood, an important kind of lymphocyte for immune defences. They are then introduced into the patient's body where they attack malignant cells in a natural way. This therapy is starting to be studied with multiple myeloma patients, but it could also be used to combat other diseases.
3. CAR-T therapy. The most important leukaemia research project in the last ten years has been the discovery of CAR T cells, or chimeric T cell receptors. CAR T cells are lymphocyte T-cells in the immune system which are genetically reprogrammed to selectively attack leukaemia cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
CAR T cells would, for 80% of patients, be capable of eliminating acute lymphoblastic leukemia resistant to conventional treatment. It therefore represents a very efficient procedure for the treatment of leukaemia, and one with a low level of toxicity.
Why do we need to investigate?
The aim is to strengthen the body's defences in a natural way, and to direct those defences against malignant cells. In this way we will be able to give more opportunities to patients who have exhausted conventional chemotherapy protocols and it will be possible to minimise the side effects and reduce the levels of toxicity with respect to current treatments.
Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute Dossier
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