PCF Researcher Dr. Carl June Presents Results on "Performance Enhanced" T-Cell Therapy in Leukemia
April 5, 2012 -- Dr. Carl June presented results during the Plenary Session at the 103rd annual AACR conference on Tuesday, April 3, 2012, concerning an adoptive T-cell therapy for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a highly lethal disease. Dr. June is Director of Translational Research at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and is an Investigator of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute.
Dr. June described a therapeutic method that successfully used a patient’s own lymphocytes to treat a type of leukemia. A billion T-cells, specialized lymphocytes capable of killing tumor cells, were removed from patients and modified in the laboratory with a novel biotechnology to target tumors. Three patients with incurable CLL were treated. Dr. June saw “no trace of disease [leukemia] anywhere — no leukemic cells in his blood or bone marrow, no more bulging lymph nodes on his CT scan. His doctors calculated that the treatment had killed off two pounds of cancer cells.” This is a truly remarkable finding as these thee patients had incurable tumor burdens of 3m—seven pounds per individual.
As shared in a New York Times article written by Denise Grady shortly after this research was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine on August 25, 2011, she wrote:
"This discovery may signify a turning point in the long struggle to develop effective gene therapies against cancer. And not just for leukemia patients: other cancers may also be vulnerable to this novel approach. In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells."
To ensure T-cells can detect, bind and and destroy tumor cells, Dr. June's research group had to achieve several milestones. First, through biotechnology, a receptor on the surface of T-cells had to be genetically engineered to recognize malignant cells in patients. Second, methods to insert this cancer-specific T-cell receptor into the cell surface needed to be developed. This work resulted in a modified patient T-cell preparation which was expanded 1,000-to-10,000-fold, following infusion.
This engineered T-cell therapy generates an “immune memory” which prolongs the effect of this immunotherapy for years in leukemia patients. “This therapy is an example of synthetic biology and is a performance-enhancing drug for the immune system,” shared June.
There are possible lessons from this session that can be applied to immunotherapies for other cancers, including prostate cancer. In fact, with research support from PCF, Dr. June is exploring the application of this technology for the treatment of advanced, metastatic prostate cancer.
Dr. Carl June is a PCF-funded researcher and mentor to Jihyun Lee, PhD, 2011 Ben Franklin PCF Young Investigator and David Bajor, MD, 2011 Emilio Bassini PCF Young Investigator, both from the University of Pennsylvania.
Learn more about Dr. Carl June and colleagues with a full abstract and Dr. June’s research expertise. Also read a New York Times article by Denise Grady, describing enhanced T-cell discovery in detail and a CBS YouTube video.