There’s a powerful new weapon in the battle against pediatric cancer, thanks to a new “smart” therapy that could one day eliminate the need for chemotherapy and radiation. The therapy harnesses the power of the immune system to recognize and fight cancer.
Here’s how it works: A child’s immune system is reprogrammed to recognize and kill cancer cells. Project leader Dr. Michael Jensen’s approach starts by isolating T lymphocytes—specialized white blood cells that are good at wiping out infections—from a patient’s own blood. Then, recombinant DNA is inserted into the cells, which then instructs those cells to recognize cancer cells and kill them.
The research received a big boost in January, thanks to a $5 million gift from Seattle’s Ben Towne Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, named for a Laurel Heights boy who died in 2008 at age 3 after a battle with cancer. “We have advanced in our work from treating mice to preparing for clinical trials at Seattle Children’s Hospital, thanks in large part to the generous philanthropic support of this community,” says Jensen. The new therapy is pending FDA approval; trials are anticipated to begin this fall.