Researchers in Pennsylvania say they have developed a new procedure to boost the body’s ability to fight blood cancers.

Using technology known as CRISPR, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say they have successfully blocked a gene that limits the activation of T cells, which help fight cancer.

The research thus far has only been conducted in mice and the study has not been peer reviewed. The researchers presented their findings Monday at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting.

Penn’s procedure cured more than 50% of the animals infected with T-cell leukemia, the researchers reported.

CRISPR allows scientists to find and change any unwanted gene, according to Science Daily. When used against cancer, CRISPR can delete the specific gene in T cells. In this case the gene is known as CD5.

“We’ve shown, for the first time, that we can successfully use CRISPR-Cas9 to knock out CD5 on a CAR T cells and enhance their ability to attack cancer,” said Marco Ruella, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, who will present the results. “The difference between edited and non-edited CAR T cells was striking in several cancer models.”

Researchers also culled a database of more than 8,000 tumor biopsies and found a correlation between the level of CD5 genes found in T cells and the patient’s treatment.

“Basically, in most cancer types, the less CD5 expressed in T cells, the better the outcome,” Ruella said. “The level of CD5 in your T cells matters.”

Researchers said a phase I clinical trial on the new procedure could begin as soon as 2021.

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