March 1, 2006 — To lessen the impact of chemotherapy on bone marrow cancer patients, hematologists are recruiting the patients' own immune systems to help. White blood cells are extracted before a bone marrow transplant, treated to up their activity, and injected back after chemotherapy. Doctors hope to test technique on other patients with immune deficiencies, including HIV.
BALTIMORE--A heavy dose of chemo takes a huge toll on cancer patients' bodies, making them weak and prone to infection. Now, a new, life-saving therapy is helping some cancer patients win the war against a deadly disease.
Having bone marrow cancer hasn't slowed down Todd Ewell, but the chemotherapy to fight the disease stopped him in his tracks. "It's kind of like if you had the worst flu in your life for about six weeks straight," he says.
The body's immune system takes a beating from chemotherapy. Patients can't fight off infection or disease, but Todd's body fought back, thanks to a new immune-boosting therapy.
Aaron Rapoport, a hematologist and oncologist at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, says, "What we're seeking to do is to harness the power of the patient's own immune system."
Before a bone marrow transplant, hematologists collect a patient's own immune cells, then activate, or turn on, the cells in a lab. The enhanced cells are injected back into the patient, along with a pneumonia vaccine, jump-starting the immune system. "It will be better able to respond to infections and also be better able to attack and eliminate cancer cells that may remain," Dr. Rapoport tells DBIS.
The new therapy worked wonders for Todd. "It's going fantastic. It's almost like it never happened." His cancer is in complete remission, and now he's focused on rebuilding his life cancer free.
Doctors are hopeful the new therapy could be tested and used to treat other people with compromised immune systems liked HIV patients and the elderly.