New treatment uses altered blood cells to attack leukaemia

Scientists have figured out how to reprogram the blood of cancer patients to attack their leukaemia, and 19 of the 30 patients who received the treatment remain in complete remission.


A team of researchers led by immunotherapist Carl June from the University of Pennsylvania in the US has announced the results of a new treatment for leukaemia patients that turns their own blood cells against their disease.

The researchers chose to work with patients who were dealing with particularly aggressive cases of leukaemia. All of the participants in the study had cancers that had returned at least four times before.

According to Elizabeth Lopatto at the Verge, the treatment works by first having a patient’s T cells – a type of white blood cell that plays a crucial role in the body’s immune response – harvested through a blood transfusion process. These T cells are then engineered to seek out a particular protein called a B cell receptor, found on the surface of the patient’s B cells. B cells are another type of white blood cell that’s specifically targeted by leukaemia.

The patient’s altered T cells will then be transplanted back into their blood stream so they can start hunting B cell receptor proteins, and kill the leukaemia and the B cells they’re attached to.

Of course, this means that the patient’s entire supply of B cells will be wiped out by this treatment. Because the main role of B cells is to produce antibodies to fight anything that might threaten our bodies, including viruses and bacteria, the patients will be left extremely vulnerable until they can generate more. This is something that hospitals will need to be aware of if the treatment ends up being used more widely, but the benefit of this treatment is that it only has to be administered once for it to work.

According to the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, of the 30 children and adults that received the treatment, complete remission was achieved in 27 patients (90 percent). Remission was sustained past the six-month point in 19 of the 30 patients. One of the early success stories is a nine-year-old girl called Emily Whitehead, who started the treatment when she was six. She’s been cancer-free now for two years.

“This is unlike almost all cell and gene therapies in that it’s actually ahead of the schedule we set for ourselves when we first started treating patients,” June told Lopatto at the Verge. “We pinch ourselves because, you know, until recently we didn’t know if we got lucky or if it would last. Our initial patients are still in remission, so we know it’s durable and reproducible. That’s something that makes us excited every day.”

The team is now working on easing the side effects of the treatment, which include fever, nausea, muscle pain and difficulty breathing.

Cell-suicide blocker holds promise as HIV therapy.

NIBSC/Science Photo Library

Immune cells (green) infected with HIV (pink) undergo a cell-suicide process known as pyroptosis.

HIV infection causes a mass suicide of immune cells — a process that can be halted by an experimental drug that blocks cellular self-destruction, studies in cell cultures suggest. Researchers are now proposing a clinical trial of the drug in people with HIV.

Current HIV therapies act by targeting key proteins made by the virus. But findings from cell cultures, published today in Science1 and Nature2, suggest that targeting proteins in host cells might be an alternative approach to preserving the immune system in the face of an HIV infection.

The papers also address a decades-old mystery: why infection-fighting immune cells die off in people with HIV. A 2010 study3 showed that HIV does not directly kill most of these cells, called CD4 cells. Instead, the cells often self-destruct. “It’s much more a suicide than it is a murder,” says Warner Greene, a molecular virologist at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology in San Francisco, California, and a co-author of both the latest works.

Ring of fire

In the latest studies, Greene’s team investigated these ‘abortive’ infections. They identified a sensor that detects viral DNA in the cell and activates the suicide response1. And they found that most of the cellular suicide occurs via a process called pyroptosis, in which the dying cells unleash a ferocious inflammatory response2. A key protein involved in pyroptosis is caspase 1, and an experimental caspase-1 inhibitor made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had already been tested in humans as a potential treatment for epilepsy. The drug, VX-765, failed to help epileptics, but six-week-long studies suggested that it was safe.

Greene and his colleagues tested VX-765 in HIV-infected cells cultured from human tonsils and spleens, and found that it blocked pyroptosis, prevented CD4 cell death, and suppressed inflammation. Greene hopes that the approach could one day provide an alternative or embellishment to the antiretroviral drugs currently used by 9.7 million people worldwide to manage HIV infection.

Because a caspase-1 inhibitor would target a host protein rather than the virus, HIV is less likely to become resistant to the therapy, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. But any new HIV therapy will face steep competition from the more than 30 antiretroviral drugs currently available. “You’ve got to be pretty good to replace the antiretrovirals,” says Fauci.


Understanding why HIV infection kills CD4 cells is an important step for researchers, says Gary Nabel, chief scientific officer at Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Paris. “We need to understand when a cell would rather die than let a virus infect it, and how the virus can evade that cellular suicide response to infection,” he says.

But Nabel also urges caution. He worries that some of the infections that Greene and his team consider abortive may progress if the immune cells survive. “Preventing cell death is a double-edged sword in the context of HIV,” he says. “Death can be protective if a T cell says ‘I’m going to die before I let this virus replicate and spread to other cells.’”

Greene counters that his team looked for evidence of progression to active infection, and found none. “Pyroptosis is not a strategy to protect the host from productive infection,” says Greene. “Instead, this is a pathway that actually promotes clinical progression to AIDS.”

3 Simple Rules to Protecting Yourself from Energy Vampires.

The human body generates an electromagnetic field. When that field is easily disrupted, it can manifest in many ways including being “sensitive” to people and environments. You might recognize the feelings of being a sensitive soul. Being around a certain someone puts you in a bad mood. Having to go into a crowded party overwhelms you. When someone isn’t happy with you, you feel as if you’re being physically attacked.

Being energetically sensitive means that you’re picking up on and absorbing negative energy from those around you. You’re not just moody! Great news, right?

Having a strong and balanced energy system is the best way I’ve learned to stay protected from energy vampires. Do this daily and you’ll have a little routine that will help strengthen your system so you can be anywhere, at any time, and feel calm and confident.

Rule #1: Balance

Make sure your energy system is strong and balanced. There are many ways to do this but one of my favorites is the “thymus thump.” Thumping a gland in the center of your chest, called the thymus gland, gives you an immune system boost and is also effective for calming fear and balancing your entire system quickly. Simply use your fist and “thump” like Tarzan for about 30 seconds and some big deep breaths.

Rule #2: Ground

Ground your energy. The more grounded, or connected to the earth’s energies you are, the less shaken you’ll be by your environment. A great way to “ground” is by literally pulling your energy down through your feet.

Place your hands at the sides of your waist. With your thumb in the front and fingers toward the back, slide your hands slowly and firmly down your legs. When you get to your feet, squeeze at the sides of your feet. Doing this on grass, dirt, or sand makes it even more powerful.

Rule #3: Protect

By tracing your central meridian, an energy pathway running up the front of your body, also highly attuned to thoughts and emotions, you are able to strengthen it.

Place your hands at the bottom end of the central meridian, which is at your pubic bone. Inhale deeply as you simultaneously pull your hands straight up the center of your body, to your lower lip. Repeat three times. With the electromagnetic force of your hands, you are literally moving the energy in the meridian in the direction of its strength and in turn, the meridian is strengthening you. While doing this exercise, you can also add an affirmation such as “I am safe and protected”.

Breathe! Breathing allows energy movement in your body. If you hold your breath in crowds or around difficult people, you are actually preventing any negative energy from movinʼ right through you.

Cross your arms/legs when feeling energetically vulnerable. This actually protects your aura and creates an energetic shield. Negative energy being directed at you will tend to bounce off of you and return to the sender.
Pick your location wisely. Stand by a window or door in crowds and avoid sitting at the front of a class or room where people direct their energy toward you.

Black tourmaline, a crystal that can be purchased for just a couple of dollars, is an excellent negative energy absorber. Put it in your pocket, purse, or just keep it close by when feeling vulnerable.

Now you have lots of minute-or-less tools to keep you balanced, grounded, and protected. Just don’t forget, they only work if you use them.

Ahhh, doesn’t that feel better already?

What tools do you use to protect yourself from energy vampires?

Cloning Mice.

For the First Time, a Donor Mouse Has Been Cloned Using a Drop of Peripheral Blood from Its Tail.

From obesity to substance abuse, from anxiety to cancer, genetically modified mice are used extensively in research as models of human disease. Researchers often spend years developing a strain of mouse with the exact genetic mutations necessary to model a particular human disorder. But what if that mouse, due to the mutations themselves or a simple twist of fate, was infertile?

Currently, two methods exist for perpetuating a valuable strain of mouse. If at least one of the remaining mice is male and possesses healthy germ cells, the best option is intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an in vitro fertilization procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.

However, if the remaining mice cannot produce healthy germ cells, or if they are female, researchers must turn to cloning. Somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) produces cloned animals by replacing an oocyte’s nucleus with that of an adult somatic cell. An early version of this process was used to produce Dolly the sheep in 1996.

Since then, SCNT techniques have continued to advance. Earlier this year, researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, even devised a technique to avoid the diminishing returns of recloning the same cell; success rates increased from the standard three percent in first-generation clones to ten percent in first-generation and 14 percent in higher-generation clones.

The type of somatic cell used for this process is critical and depends largely on its efficiency in producing live clones, as well as its ease of access and readiness for experimental use. While cumulus cells, which surround oocytes in the ovarian follicle and after ovulation, are currently the preferred cell type, Drs. Satoshi Kamimura, Atsuo Ogura, and colleagues at the RIKEN BioResource Center in Tsukuba, Japan, questioned whether white blood cells (a.k.a., leukocytes) collected from an easily accessed site, such as a tail, would be effective donor cells. Such cells would allow for repeated sampling with minimal risk to the donor mouse.

There are five different types of white blood cells and, as expected, the researchers found that lymphocytes were the type that performed the most poorly: only 1.7 percent of embryos developed into offspring. The physically largest white blood cells, and thus the easiest to filter from the blood sample, were granulocytes and monocytes. The nuclei of these cells performed better, with 2.1 percent of the embryos surviving to term, compared to 2.7 percent for the preferred cell type, cumulus cells.

The granulocytes’ performance was poorer than expected due to a much higher rate of fragmentation in early embryos (22.6 percent): twofold higher than that of lymphocyte cloning and fivefold higher than cumulus cell cloning. The researchers were unable to determine what could be causing the fragmentation and intend to perform further studies to improve the performance of granulocyte donor cells.

Although the blood cells tested did not surpass the success rate of cumulus cells in this study, the researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, that mice can be cloned using the nuclei of peripheral blood cells. These cells may be used for cloning immediately after collection with minimal risk to the donor, helping to generate genetic copies of mouse strains that cannot be preserved by other assisted reproduction techniques.

Football-shaped particles bolster the body’s defense against cancer

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have succeeded in making flattened, football-shaped artificial particles that impersonate immune cells. These football-shaped particles seem to be better than the typical basketball-shaped particles at teaching immune cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells in mice.

“The shape of the really seems to matter because the stretched, ellipsoidal particles we made performed much better than spherical ones in activating the immune system and reducing the animals’ tumors,” according to Jordan Green, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a collaborator on this work. A summary of the team’s results was published online in the journal Biomaterials on Oct. 5.

According to Green, one of the greatest challenges in the field of cancer medicine is tracking down and killing once they have metastasized and escaped from a tumor mass. One strategy has been to create tiny artificial capsules that stealthily carry toxic drugs throughout the body so that they can reach the escaped tumor cells. “Unfortunately, traditional chemotherapy drugs do not know healthy cells from tumor cells, but immune system cells recognize this difference. We wanted to enhance the natural ability of T-cells to find and attack tumor cells,” says Jonathan Schneck, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology, medicine and oncology.

In their experiments, Schneck and Green’s interdisciplinary team exploited the well-known immune system interaction between antigen-presenting cells (APC) and T-cells. APCs “swallow” invaders and then display on their surfaces chewed-up protein pieces from the invaders along with molecular “danger signals.” When circulating T-cells interact with APCs, they learn that those proteins come from an enemy, so that if the T-cells see those proteins again, they divide rapidly to create an army that attacks and kills the invaders.

According to Schneck, to enhance this natural process, several laboratories, including his own, have made various types of “artificial APCs”—tiny inanimate spheres “decorated” with pieces of tumor proteins and danger signals. These are then often used in immunotherapy techniques in which are collected from a cancer patient and mixed with the artificial APCs. When they interact with the patient’s T-cells, the T-cells are activated, learn to recognize the tumor cell proteins and multiply over the course of several days. The immune cells can then be transferred back into the patient to seek out and kill .

The cell-based technique has had only limited success and involves risks due to growing the cells outside the body, Green says. These downsides sparked interest in the team to improve the technique by making biodegradable artificial APCs that could be administered directly into a potential patient and that would better mimic the interactions of natural APCs with T-cells. “When immune cells in the body come in contact, they’re not doing so like two billiard balls that just touch ever so slightly,” explains Green. “Contact between two cells involves a significant overlapping surface area. We thought that if we could flatten the particles, they might mimic this interaction better than spheres and activate the T-cells more effectively.”

To flatten the particles, two M.D./Ph.D. students, Joel Sunshine and Karlo Perica, figured out how to embed a regular batch of spherical particles in a thin layer of a glue-like compound. When they heated the resulting sheet of particles, it stretched like taffy, turning the round spheres into tiny football shapes. Once cooled, the film could be dissolved to free each of the microscopic particles that could then be outfitted with the tumor proteins and danger signals. When they compared typical spherical and football-shaped particles—both coated with tumor proteins and danger signals at equivalent densities and mixed with T-cells in the laboratory—the T-cells multiplied many more times in response to the stretched particles than to spherical ones. In fact, by stretching the original spheres to varying degrees, they found that, up to a point, they could increase the multiplication of the T-cells just by lengthening the “footballs.”

When the particles were injected into mice with skin cancer, the T-cells that interacted with the elongated artificial APCs, versus spherical ones, were also more successful at killing tumor cells. Schneck says that tumors in mice that were treated with round particles reduced tumor growth by half, while elongated particles reduced tumor growth by three-quarters. Even better, he says, over the course of a one-month trial, 25 percent of the mice with skin cancer being treated with elongated particles survived, while none of the mice in the other treatment groups did.

According to Green, “This adds an entirely new dimension to studying cellular interactions and developing new artificial APCs. Now that we know that shape matters, scientists and engineers can add this parameter to their studies,” says Green. Schneck notes, “This project is a great example of how interdisciplinary science by two different groups, in this case one from biomedical engineering and another from pathology, can change our entire approach to tackling a problem. We’re now continuing our work together to tweak other characteristics of the artificial APCs so that we can optimize their ability to activate T- inside the body.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Stem Cell Transplant Experts Discuss the Procedure and How to Become a Stem Cell Donor.

This morning, Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts announced that she will undergo a bone marrow transplant at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Learn about the treatment and recovery process from Memorial Sloan-Kettering experts.

Over the course of three decades, Memorial Sloan-Kettering physicians have performed more than 4,000 bone marrow transplants – nearly 400 annually in recent years. This procedure, also known as a stem cell transplant, is used to replenish bone marrow and hematopoietic stem cells that have been destroyed due to a variety of reasons, such as certain types of cancer, cancer treatments, blood diseases, or immune disorders. Hematopoietic, or blood-forming, stem cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Our investigators have also been at the forefront of research in stem cell transplantation since 1973, when our doctors performed the world’s first successful transplant between a patient and an unrelated donor. Many of the transplant approaches and supportive care regimens widely used today were pioneered at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

In a recent interview, experts on our Adult Bone Marrow Transplantation Service talked about the procedure, the recovery process, and how to become a bone marrow or stem cell donor.

What does a stem cell transplant involve?

There are two main types of transplants. In an autologous transplant, a patient’s own stem cells are collected and then transplanted back. In an allogeneic transplant, the stem cells are obtained from another person or from donated umbilical cord blood and then given to the patient.

Before either type of transplant, the patient receives high doses of chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill any cancerous cells and hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. Healthy blood stem cells are then transplanted into the bloodstream through an intravenous catheter, in a process similar to a blood transfusion.

The stem cells migrate to the bone marrow, where after several weeks they usually begin to develop into new infection-fighting white blood cells, oxygen-rich red blood cells, and blood-clot-forming platelets.

How do doctors decide that a person should receive a transplant?

We carefully select patients for this procedure because transplantation can be extremely challenging for a patient and his or her family. This is both because of the toxicity of the high-dose regimens before the transplant and because the patient’s immune system must be suppressed for an extended period of time after the procedure to prevent a rejection of the transplanted cells.

Despite the risks, outcomes have dramatically improved over the past decades, and stem cell transplants can often cure a person’s disease. In fact, a recent study conducted by the National Marrow Donor Program found that Memorial Sloan-Kettering significantly exceeded its predicted one-year survival rate for patients undergoing an allogeneic transplant.

What is the recovery process like for a patient?

Most patients remain in the hospital for several weeks to receive medical support. To protect against infection, everyone who enters the patient’s room is required to wear gloves, masks, and sometimes disposable gowns, and to wash their hands with antiseptic soap. Patients can’t have any fresh fruit, flowers, or plants in their rooms, as these can carry disease-causing molds and bacteria.

The first year after the transplant is critically important because it’s the period when complications – such as infection or rejection – are most likely to happen. Patients are typically able to get back to their regular activities after a year, with a lower risk of developing an infection.

How do you identify donors for patients who need an allogeneic transplant?

Finding an appropriate donor is critical to the success of an allogeneic transplant. Because the immune system can identify and destroy any cells perceived as foreign, a donor’s tissue type should match the patient’s as closely as possible. The process of tissue typing is based on analyzing proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which are found on the surface of white blood cells and tissues.

We work closely with our patients to find a bone marrow match. Often, the ideal donor is a sibling who has inherited the same HLA. The majority of patients do not have a brother or sister who is a match, so we can look for other family members who may be a partial match. But because family size is getting smaller in North America, it is becoming more challenging to find appropriate family member donors.

We often look to volunteer donor registries, such as the National Marrow Donor Program, and in some cases we consider using umbilical cord blood stored in public banks, such as through National Cord Blood Program. It can also be difficult to find stem cells from people of mixed ethnic or minority backgrounds through these registries, so we encourage more people to consider becoming a donor.

How can I register to become a bone marrow or stem cell donor?

You can join the Be The Match Registry or DKMS Americas. Everyone who is medically able should consider becoming part of a marrow registry. Learn more about who can donate, donor requirements, and medical guidelines from the National Marrow Donor Program.

Source: MSKCC.

Banana has the best anti-cancer effects over other fruits.

Japanese scientists have found that a fully ripe banana produces a substance called TNF which has the ability to combat abnormal cells and enhance immunity against cancer.

They have pointed out that as the banana ripens it develops dark spots and or patches in the banana skin and the more patches it has the higher will be its immunity enhancement quality.

According the Japanese scientists who have carried out this research state that banana contains TNF which has anti-cancer properties. They say that the degree of anti-cancer effect corresponds to the degree of ripeness of the fruit.

In an animal experiment carried by them at the Tokyo University comparing various health benefits of different fruits, using banana, grape, apple, water melon. Pineapple, pears they have found banana with best results. Banana, produces anti-cancer substance, increases the number of white cells and has the ability to enhance the immunity of the body.