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Immunotherapy hope for elimination of leukaemia stem cells

Friday May 22nd, 2020

Hematopoietic stem cells can be selectively eliminated using immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy, a new Swiss study has revealed.

Researchers led by the University of Zurich report that this can be achieved using healthy and cancerous haematopoietic stem cells from humans in mice. They now want to test the new immunotherapy in humans as soon as possible.

Acute myeloid leukaemia patients are usually treated with intensive chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy, after which they require a transplant of hematopoietic stem cells from a healthy donor.

However, there are serious side effects associated with the treatment, making it unsuitable for many patients.

Writing in Leukaemia, the team of scientists and physicians from the University of Zurich, the University Hospital Zurich and ETH Zurich reveal they have used CAR-T therapy to eliminate the leukaemic and hematopoietic stem cells more selectively.

Study leader Professor Markus Manz, professor of medicine at UZH and director of the Department of Medical Oncology and Haematology at USZ, said: “Compared to normal strategies, our method works very selectively, meaning that mature blood cells and other tissues are spared.”

The results were achieved using cell cultures in the lab and in mice with human blood and cancer cells, but Professor Manz is confident that the treatment could also be effective in humans.

“The principle works: It is possible to eliminate, with high precision, the leukaemic and hematopoietic stem cells in a living organism,” he said.

Researchers are now testing to see if the method is only possible with CAR-T cells or also with simpler constructs, such as T-cell-activating antibodies.

Prof Manz said if the method also works with humans, it could replace chemotherapy.

Source: Myburgh R, Kiefer JD, Russkamp NF, et al. Anti-human CD117 CAR T-cells efficiently eliminate healthy and malignant CD117-expressing hematopoietic cells. Leukaemia 1 May 2020; doi: 10.1038/s41375-020-0818-9.

Tags: Cancer | Europe

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