Gene Therapy on T-Cells

What is gene therapy, you ask? What are T-cells? That will become very clear as I tell you about their promising role in medicine and in fighting cancer, specifically leukemia- a topic that everyone is familiar with. Gene therapy is the process by which DNA is used as a drug to treat a disease- it is altered to encode a functional, therapeutic gene and is used to replace a mutated gene. T-cells are white blood cells that circulate and scan our bodies for abnormalities and infections and, therefore, are crucial for immunity. They are categorized into two types: killer T-cells and helper T-cells. The killer T-cells scan cells; finding and destroying cells that are infected or cancerous. The helper T-cells, on the other hand, are responsible for arranging immune responses and play vital roles in immunity.

According to a study published in Science Translational Medicine, gene therapy presented promising results in ridding three adults of acute leukemia. The patients were diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and had worsened with chemotherapy. The researchers filtered the patients’ blood for T-cells and genetically engineered them with a virus that carried genetic material capable of recognizing CD19. CD19 is a protein expressed in B-cells and once the T-cells were transferred back into the patients, they were able to attack both cancerous and normal B-cells. Despite unpleasant and risky immune reactions, the patients went into remission.

Renier Brentjens, the lead author of the paper, told The New York Times that, “We had hoped, but couldn’t have predicted that the response would be so profound and rapid.”

I believe, as Dr. Brentjens says so himself, that the success of gene therapy in cancer is truly promising. This method will be tested in a second trial with 50 patients and can even be promising in treating other types of cancers in the future.

– Faranak Zamani

image information: Scanning electron micrograph of a human T cell (Wikipedia)



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