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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 13:39 GMT
Cells 'seek and destroy' cancer
Laboratory work found the key cells
Laboratory work found the key cells
UK scientists have developed immune cells which can locate and destroy leukaemia cells.

The discovery could mean new treatments for the 18,000 people diagnosed every year in Britain with leukaemia or related blood diseases.

Researchers from Hammersmith Hospital and Imperial College School of Medicine in London have worked for six years to develop the process.

The key was the discovery of a single gene, WT1, which is over-active in cells that cause leukaemia.

Clinical trials

That breakthrough enabled the scientists to develop immune cells that specifically seek out cells with the over-active form of the WT1 gene and destroy them.

The possibilities for new treatments are enormous

Dr Hans Stauss
Hammersmith Hospital
In tests so far, the immune cells target leukaemia cells and ignore healthy cells of the same type.

The research team, led by Dr Hans Stauss, is joining up with haematology experts to conduct clinical trials on leukaemia patients over the next two years.

The research, which has so far had an investment of 750,000 from the Leukaemia Research Fund, is published in the journal Hammersmith Research.

'Huge step forward'

Dr Stauss, Reader in Tumour Immunology at Imperial College, said: "The principle we have developed can be applied to almost all forms of leukaemia and could signal a huge step forward in how we treat the disease.

"What makes this work even more exciting is that our findings can also be applied to solid cancers, such as breast or lung cancer, where there is similar over expression of WT-1. The possibilities for new treatments are enormous."

Elizabeth Rees has leukaemia. She was given five years to live, but could be one of the first to benefit from the new treatment.

Elizabeth Rees: "It gives me my life back"
"It gives me my life back possibly, because really when you're diagnosed with leukaemia, you think you're on a countdown.

"We all are, but [with leukaemia] you're countdown is pretty much defined for you and very much reduced."

Professor Robert Winston, director of research and development at the Hammersmith Hospital, said: "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time in the world that anyone has identified a target which allows T-cells to selectively destroy cells that cause leukaemia.

"Such a breakthrough underlines the vital importance of long-term academic research, in the production of new and desperately needed treatments."

He told the BBC: "It's likely to be of advantage to most kinds of leukaemia, and possibly it might be of advantage to other cancers as well.

He said doctors were ready to be ready to treat patients now.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Scientists are already producing the new experimental treatment for leukaemia"
Hammersmith Hospital's Dr Hans Stauss
"Those immune cells have the capability of finding the cancer cells and killing them"
David Grant, Leukemia Research Fund
"Conventional therapy is very punishing"
See also:

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22 Nov 99 | Medical notes
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17 Mar 00 | C-D
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