Designer T cells to fight prostate cancer

21 Apr 2009

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and the Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I., have developed a way to manipulate T cells in the fight against prostate cancer, which may in turn help cancer therapy enter into a new era of living drugs. 

Dr. Richard Junghans, associate professor of surgery and medicine, presented data at the AACR Annual Meeting on the first prostate cancer patients treated with designer T cells that have been modified by retroviral gene therapy. These are the patients’ own T cells that are “educated” to attack tumours in the body.

“This is the brave new world of oncology treatments because these ‘drugs’ are alive rather than inert chemicals,” said Junghans. “These designer T cells will be able to go and attack cancers where hormone therapies and chemotherapies have failed.” 

In the human tests, a “haematologic space” in the body is first created by chemotherapy in which these designer T cells expand 100-fold in number after infusion to increase their potency, Junghans said. In the first two patients treated, researchers noted prostate-specific antigen reductions of 50 percent to 75 per cent. 

“With still higher doses of T cells soon to follow in our dose escalation plan, we hope to observe the 100 per cent prostate-specific antigen reductions that everyone seeks,” he said. “This genetic engineering brings us into a new era of cancer treatment by reprogramming T cells to attack the cancer in the same way that the T cells would normally fight a virus infection. I predict we will see approval of drugs in this category in the next five years.”