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Longevity Briefs: CAR-T Cell Patient ‘Cured’ of Leukaemia, Remains Cancer-free 10 Years On

Posted on 16 February 2022

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

As reported by STAT, Doug Olson became the second person in the world to undergo CAR-T cell therapy in 2010, a method of engineering one’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Doug Olsen – ‘cured’ of Leukemia by CAR-T therapy. Source: AP (via The Guardian)

It was a last, desperate attempt at fighting off Olson’s chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, an incurable blood cancer, with experimental cell therapy with no guarantees that it would improve the prognosis of Doug’s condition.

​​​​CAR-T therapy is a form of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own T cells to fight cancer. The T cells are removed from the patient’s blood and genetically modified to be able to find and attack cancerous cells more effectively. They are then returned to the patient’s body where they can destroy these cells.

In the informed consent document that Doug signed, we thought [the CAR-T cells] would be gone in a month or two.

Dr. Carl June, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the senior researcher on the experiment

In a recent article in the science journal Nature, it was reported that Olson has been cancer-free for over a decade.

As the researchers tracked Olson and another patient, what they saw was stunning: Year after year, the CAR-T cells persisted, actively seeking cancer cells.

“Ten years on, no leukaemia cells, and we still have CAR-T cells that are on patrol and surveillance from leukaemia.”

Dr. Carl June

Additionally, Bill Ludwig, who underwent the first CAR-T treatment, remained cancer free until his death from Covid-19 in January 2021.

A total of six CAR-T therapies are now approved for the treatment of leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.

Source: Lyfeboat

Almost all patients treated with CAR-T therapy have eventually relapsed, making these two patients’ enduring responses so remarkable.

Olson and Ludwig were both diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a malignancy of the B cell. The engineered cells worked by recognizing cancerous B cells and destroying them.

That can make people quite sick and cause damage to kidneys, which Doug did have…

David Porter, Olsons oncologist.

In addition, Olson also suffered symptoms characteristic of a cytokine storm, an inflammatory syndrome attributed to cell therapies, where the body is flooded with cytokines, immune compounds the body uses to kill bacteria.

Despite these unwanted side effects, the CD4 CAR-T cells which were circulating Doug’s system had shown that they could still recognise and unexpectedly destroy cancer cells in the lab, which led June and his colleagues to suspect that the cells were preventing the return of cancer in the patients by killing off any B cells the body produces.

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