The innovative work being done by CHOP’s Stephen Grupp, MD, was recently featured on the CBS show The Doctors. Dr. Grupp, the Center for Childhood Cancer Research’s director of translational research, discussed his trial using immune therapy to treat an aggressive form of childhood leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
While roughly 85 percent of ALL cases can be cured, the remaining 15 percent resist conventional treatments. “For the kids who aren’t [cured], this is where we need other kinds of treatments,” Dr. Grupp said.
In short, the trial led by Dr. Grupp — which builds on work by the University of Pennsylvania’s Carl H. June, MD — involves modifying T cells, a type of white blood cells, to attack cancer cells. CAR T cells (chimeric antigen receptor T cells) are engineered to specifically target B cells, which can become cancerous in leukemias like ALL, as well as certain types of lymphoma, another cancer of the immune cells.
Dr. Grupp received a great deal of attention for his work after one of his young patients, Emily Whitehead, achieved a complete response — a disappearance of cancer — after she was treated with engineered T cells. Prior to being enrolling in the CART19 trial (now known as CLT019), Emily’s prospects were grim: her cancer had relapsed during a second round of conventional chemotherapy.
Though few patients have so far been treated with modified T cells — just ten adults and two children — researchers are hopeful that such an approach to immune therapy could one day be used to treat B cell cancers. In Emily’s case, since receiving the treatment, she has remained cancer-free.