Breakthrough cancer study has Israeli roots

A healthy human T-cell. The research first pioneered by an Israeli scientist from the Weizmann Institute shows that T-cells can be modified genetically to destroy leukemia tumor cells. Credit: NIAID/NIH via Wikimedia Commons.

( A cancer study hailed this week as potentially showing revolutionary results for the treatment of leukemia is based on research undertaken by Prof. Zelig Eshhar of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.

An article in the Science Translational Medicine journal outlines how researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine found that 27 out of 29 advanced leukemia patients either went into remission or saw their illness go away completely after their T-cells were modified genetically, a success rate of nearly 94 percent. In the study, carried out at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the cells were equipped with synthetic molecules the were able to destroy the tumor cells, particularly in cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

These results are not surprising for Prof. Eshhar, who pioneered the idea with a 1989 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, in which he replaced the T-cell’s natural receptor with one of his choice, showing that T-cells can be engineered to attach to any entity. Eshhar won the Jewish state’s prestigious Israel Prize for his research in 2015.

“I’m not surprised to hear about the results,” Eshhar said, the Times of Israel reported. “In our lab, we cured many rats and mice of cancer. I have been saying for years that we could do this in people, as well.”

“I felt a great sense of satisfaction upon hearing the news,” he added. “The next task of my lab and others working on this is to expand it and try to attack other forms of cancer.”

Eshhar cautioned, however, that more work is needed before the treatment could actually be seen as a cancer cure.

“Obviously much more work is needed,” he said. “One issue with this kind of therapy is that you have to develop specific T-cells for each kind of cancer. But studies like those are a great impetus to move forward with research. I believe the day will come when we will see many more cancers treated in this manner.”

Posted on February 17, 2016 .