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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
Blood cells turn cancer killers
A scientists working with samples at the Paterson Institute
The scientists modified the DNA in white blood cells
Scientists in Greater Manchester have come up with a technique to modify white blood cells so they destroy cancerous tumours.

The researchers at the Paterson Institute in Manchester have used genetic engineering to modify the blood cells, it was revealed on Tuesday.

Backed by Cancer Research UK, the researchers plan to start the first patient trial of the treatment in the UK next year.

They say the power of the human immune system has been harnessed to tackle cancers, which are not normally eliminated because the body actually produces them.

During the research white blood cells were modified, enabling the body to recognise and attack the cancer cells.

The real test will be whether it works in cancer patients
Professor Robert Hawkins
Professor Robert Hawkins, from Cancer Research UK's Department of Medical Oncology, said the immune system can get "confused" by cancer.

He said: "What we've done in this new study is give our immune cells the equipment they need to recognise, home in on and destroy cells from tumours.

"We've shown that the technique works 100% of the time in the laboratory, but the real test will be whether it works in cancer patients, which we'll begin to look at in the clinical trial."

The researchers sought to overcome the "cancer confusion" problem by tweaking the DNA in white blood cells.

'Homing' gene

They took blood samples from 10 patients with advanced bowel cancer and extracted white blood cells, called T-lymphocytes.

The lymphocytes were modified by fusing a "homing" gene that specifically targets bowel cancer cells with a "kill" gene that causes the white cells to launch an attack.

Experiments were carried out to test the engineered lymphocytes in targeting bowel cancer. Results showed cells from all patients showed powerful anti-cancer activity.

The trial is due to take place next year at Manchester's Christie Hospital.

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