Two children with an aggressive form of childhood leukemia had a complete remission of their disease—showing no evidence of cancer cells in their bodies—after treatment with a novel cell therapy that reprogrammed their immune cells to rapidly multiply and destroy leukemia cells. A research team from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania published the case report of two pediatric patients online on March 25, 2013 in an open-access article in The New England Journal of Medicine. One of the patients, 7-year-old Emily Whitehead (photo), was featured in news stories in December 2012 after the experimental therapy led to her dramatic recovery after she relapsed following conventional treatment. Emily remains healthy and cancer-free, 11 months after receiving bioengineered T cells that zeroed in on a target found in this type of leukemia, called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The other patient, a 10-year-old girl, who also had a complete response to the same treatment, suffered a relapse two months later when other leukemia cells appeared that did not harbor the specific cell receptor targeted by the therapy. "This study describes how these cells have a potent anticancer effect in children," said co-first author Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where both patients were treated in this clinical trial. "However, we also learned that in some patients with ALL, we will need to further modify the treatment to target other molecules on the surface of leukemia cells." Dr. Grupp is the director of Translational Research for the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and a professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
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