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'Cocktail' Could Combat Leukemia

In the lab, it strengthens fighting power of T-cells

MONDAY, Oct. 21, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A new cancer-killing "cocktail" shows promise in laboratory studies as an effective way to attack acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood.

A team led by Dr. Edward D. Ball, director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, report the findings in the October issue of Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

The researchers took blood samples from 12 patients, either diagnosed or just relapsed with AML. They separated out the white cells, which included AML cells and T-lymphocytes, the family of cells that mount an immune response to infected or cancerous cells.

To the mix, they added growth factors and interleukin-4 -- which helps activate the immune system -- to turn the lymphocytes into stronger fighters. "We induced them to change into dendritic cells, which are better able to induce immunity or immune response from T-cells," Ball says.

"At the end of the 40-day culture, we had a pure culture of T-cells," Ball says. "Almost all the leukemia cells were gone."

The work is at the laboratory stage, Ball cautions, and he must prove the cancer cocktail works in animals and in humans before it can become available. The long-term hope, of course, is to have the cancer "cocktail" be a cure.

About 10,600 new cases of AML are diagnosed each year, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. AML is also called by other names, including acute myelogenous leukemia and acute myelocytic leukemia. Patients often feel a loss of well-being and complain of fatigue. They may notice bruises after minor injuries and have fever, swollen gums, and slow healing of cuts.

Currently, Ball says, "we're pretty good at getting people into remission. But over 50 percent relapse. And when they relapse, they start to develop chemotherapy resistance."

Bone marrow transplant is another treatment option, he says, but even then "a fair number will relapse after transplant."

Other experts familiar with the study offer praise.

"It's a very interesting lab study that may be useful as a treatment for people with AML," says Alan Kinniburgh, vice president of research for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "It's very preliminary. The results need to be confirmed in another lab. And we need to see if it works in people. We'll have to wait to see whether the cells can be reintroduced successfully [back into people]."

The latest study extends the possibility that immunotherapy might be effective, says Dr. Stephen Forman, director of the hemotologic neoplasia program at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

"What Dr. Ball's approach does is take a series of growth factors and stimulate them in culture to generate cells from a patient's own blood that will recognize leukemia and kill it," he says.

What To Do

For more information on AML, see the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which also has a page on blood-related cancers.

SOURCES: Edward D. Ball, M.D., director, translational oncology, Rebecca and John Moores University of California at San Diego Cancer Center; Stephen Forman, M.D., director, hematologic neoplasia program, City of Hope Cancer Cancer, Duarte, Calif.; Alan Kinniburgh, Ph.D., vice president of research, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, White Plains, N.Y.; October 2002 Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation
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