In 2010, scientists used an experimental gene therapy to cure Doug Olson’s leukaemia, which turned some of his blood cells into cancer killers. There’s still a lot of work to be done more than a decade later. In 2010, scientists used an experimental gene therapy to cure Doug Olson’s leukaemia, which turned some of his blood cells into cancer killers. He hasn’t had cancer in his body in more than a decade.

According to the University of Pennsylvania experts, the treatment cured Olson and a second patient, and it was the first time the therapy had been investigated for so long.

“Right now, I’m doing fantastic.” I’m still a highly busy person. “Until 2018, I was running half-marathons,” said Olson, 75, of Pleasanton, Calif. “This is a treatment.” They also don’t use the term.

In a report published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, his doctors describe the two cases. The two cases suggest that the treatment, known as CAR-T cell therapy, can attack cancer right away, then linger inside the body for years and adapt to keep the disease at bay, according to the researchers. Thousands of people around the world are now using “living medications” to treat blood malignancies.

“We can now conclude that CAR-T cells can genuinely treat patients with leukaemia,” said Dr. Carl June, one of the study’s authors, based on the 10-year findings.

The one-time treatment is taking the patient’s T cells, which are white blood cells that play a critical role in the immune system, and genetically modifying them in the lab so that they can detect and target cancer cells. The patient receives the transformed cells through an IV.

Olson had been battling cancer for years by the time he received therapy. “I felt I had months to live” when he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 1996, he said.

He eventually endured chemotherapy, and his doctor, Dr. David Porter, suggested that he would need a bone marrow transplant at one point. Porter also suggested participating in a CAR-T treatment trial. Olson, the CEO of a New Hampshire lab equipment company, said the science excites him and that he wants to avoid the transplant.

He became ill for about a week after receiving the treatment and was admitted to the hospital for three days.

“He sat me down the next week and said, ‘We cannot locate a single cancer cell in your body,'” Olson remembered.

The other patient, Bill Ludwig, a retired correctional officer, had identical outcomes.

The changed cells evolved over time, according to the researchers, with many of them becoming “helper” cells that collaborate with the cancer-killing cells. In both patients, helper cells eventually took over.

J. Joseph Melenhorst, the study’s lead author, said that modern technology allowed researchers to extract and analyse the cells, giving them “really good insight” into how they persisted in the patients’ bodies.

The findings were described as “amazing” by Dr. Armin Ghobadi of Washington University in St. Louis, an expert in gene and cellular immunotherapy for cancer. Despite the fact that the word “cure” is rarely used in the context of cancer, he believes these individuals were “most certainly” cured.

The durability of CAR-T cells, as well as the manner the live drug evolves, piqued his interest.

Ghobadi, who was not engaged in the study, said, “That’s simply really amazing to watch.”Currently, tens of thousands of patients are being treated with CAR-T cell treatments, which have been licenced by health authorities all over the world, including the US Food and Drug Administration, for various blood malignancies. The FDA initially approved a CAR-T therapy treatment for paediatric leukaemia developed by Penn and Novartis in 2017.

The study in Nature was funded in part by the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research and in part by funding from the National Institutes of Health.

CAR-T therapy may be used for additional tumours in the future, according to scientists. A CAR-T cell therapy for multiple myeloma, the most common bone marrow cancer in adults, was approved last year. Leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma were predicted to account for slightly under 10% of the 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States last year, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“However, the real scientific difficulty — and it is a significant one — is how to make this work in solid malignancies,” June said, referring to cancers of the lung, colon, and other organs.

There are difficulties even with blood malignancies. The treatments are costly, with the medications alone costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s also the possibility of serious side effects, such as an immunological response known as “cytokine release syndrome” and nerve system issues like brain swelling.

Both of the Penn patients responded favourably to the treatment. Ludwig travelled throughout the country in a mobile home with his wife, celebrating family milestones before succumbing of COVID-19 complications early last year.


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