Australia’s 60 Minutes recently revisited its story from last year about the revolutionary immune therapy treatment spearheaded by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Stephan A. Grupp, MD, PhD. The therapy, in which modified versions of patients’ own immune cells are used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) has led to dramatic, inspirational results, with several patients achieving complete responses.
“It could be one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 21st century: a cure for childhood cancer,” said host Michael Usher.
The most common form of leukemia found in children, ALL has a roughly 85 percent cure rate. However, the remaining 15 percent of ALL cases resist standard therapy. The 60 Minutes piece focused on the researchers’ use of HIV, which the program called “one of the most notorious killers of our time,” to treat ALL. Dr. Grupp and his team have used HIV to deliver engineered T cells — the workhorses of the immune system — to selectively kill another type of immune cell called B cells, which had become cancerous.
HIV “is a terrible virus,” Dr. Grupp said, “but there’s a good property, and the good property of the virus is its ability to put a gene into cells. We isolate just that property and we get rid of all of the bad stuff, so yes, HIV’s been retasked to do good in this kind of treatment.”
The piece is also focused on one of Dr. Grupp’s patients, 5-year-old Austin, whom 60 Minutes profiled in its original piece. Diagnosed with ALL when he was 2, Austin is now in complete remission for the first time. “To see him doing normal things is a relief, and a dream come true, because those were things that were put on hold for awhile,” said Austin’s mother Kim, who called the treatment “a miracle.”
“I think we do have a potential new treatment that didn’t exist before that we hope will be available to other patients and other hospitals soon, and across the world, in the next year or two,” Dr. Grupp said.
To watch the 60 Minutes report, see below!