Study in Nature Medicine showed that these T lymphocytes lasted up to 18 months.

Supplementing T lymphocytes that target a particular virus with an artificial tumor-specific receptor extended and improved cells’ ability to fight neuroblastoma, according to a group of researchers.

The team added the protein diasialoganglioside GD2, which is found in human neuroblastoma cells, to T lymphocytes with specificity for Epstein-Barr in 11 patients. Previous attempts to use T lymphocytes with an artificial receptor directed to tumor cells proved disappointing because they disappeared from the body too quickly to have an anticancer effect. Cytotoxic T cells that already have a natural receptor for the Epstein-Barr virus, however, are continually activated by the presence of the virus, which is never eliminated from the body.

They found that these cancer-directed cells stimulated by the Epstein-Barr virus lasted as long as 18 months and at higher levels than the other cells. The researchers’ artificial antigen receptor enabled the T lymphocytes to latch onto and kill the cancer cells. The patients responded after only one infusion of cells, the group reported.

Within the next year, the investigators plan to add receptors for other cancers to the virus-specific T cells and see if they get the same cancer-fighting effect. They also hope to improve the treatment to make T lymphocytes more potent cancer killers by either adding specific receptors for proteins that allow the T lymphocytes to avoid the immune-dampening effects of the cancers or giving the treatment right after the patients receive a stem cell transplant. At that time, the number of tumor cells would be at its lowest and there would be a lot of signals telling the T lymphocytes to increase in number.

Investigators from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital collaborated on the report, which appears in Nature Medicine.

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