Hunting cancer cells

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A cutting-edge new therapy may help kids beat a highly aggressive form of leukemia. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is cancer of the white blood cells.

Most children respond well to chemotherapy, or in more aggressive cases, a bone marrow transplant. However, doctors are now testing a new treatment that uses a child’s own cells to ‘hunt’ the cancer and kill it.

Ten year old Kaiden Schroeder is such a huge fan of Kansas State, the football team let him suit up for one play. “He knows more than I would even begin to tell you about sports,” said Jenny Schroeder, Kaiden’s mother. Kaiden also knows more than most about cancer.

Jenny said, “He was diagnosed in May 2009, he had just turned four.” When chemotherapy didn’t work, Kaiden had a bone marrow transplant. His younger sister Ashlyn was his donor.

“After the transplant, he had several months off because the transplant was supposed to be the cure that he needed,” recalled Jenny. Kaiden’s cancer was aggressive, and it came back.

Doctor Shannon Maude, a Pediatric Oncologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is studying a new treatment in patients with recurrent ALL using a patient’s own t-cells, a type of immune cell. “We actually will take the t-cells and make them recognize leukemia as being something foreign that it needs to kill,” said Dr. Maude.

Researchers extract blood with the patient’s t-cells and reprogram them. Then, they infuse the new t-cells which bind to the patient’s cancer cells and wipe out the cancer. Dr. Maude said, “92% of the patients are in a remission one month after receiving the t-cell therapy.”

It’s an all-but-invisible treatment working inside Kaiden to keep him cancer-free. Jenny said, “These magic little cells that you see as a tube of blood.”

In July 2014, the Food and Drug Administration designated this t-cell approach as a ‘breakthrough’ therapy, helping the technique move more quickly into additional clinical trials.

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