By Tyler Smith

A clinical trial set to launch at the University of Colorado Cancer Center will test a therapy designed to fire the body’s natural defenses against a deadly blood cancer.

The target is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer that strikes the lymphocytes, which are immature white blood cells in the bone marrow. It most often is treated with chemotherapy, drugs that target specific genetic mutations, and stem cell bone marrow transplants. Children have the greatest chance of surviving the disease. However, for some ALL patients the available treatments fail.

In the past, these patients had little hope. But the multicenter trial in which the Cancer Center is participating and other efforts around the country could change that. The weapon being tested is a key building block of the body’s immune system: T- cells. Rapidly dividing malignant cells in ALL and other cancers can deceive and overwhelm T-cells and their ability to kill the invaders. In a new stratagem, clinicians harvest T-cells from the patient’s body, genetically modify them to recognize specific proteins produced by the cancer cells, grow them by the millions and infuse them back into the body.

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