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University of Pennsylvania Medical Center Study Funded By The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Researchers Achieve Rapid Restoration Of Immune-Suppressed Cancer Patients

10/21/2005 2:25:44 PM

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Oct. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the University of Maryland are reporting the successful results of their clinical trial of "immunotherapy" in this week's online edition of Nature Medicine. The study was funded primarily by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The "proof-of-principle" study conducted by a team led by Carl June, MD, leader of the Society's Specialized Center of Research and Director of Translational Research at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, was focused on multiple myeloma patients and is the first-ever successful adoptive immunotherapy trial. Dr. June and his colleagues demonstrated that a patient's immune system, crippled by the pre-transplant chemotherapy, can be rapidly "rebuilt" using a patient's own cells.

"This is the first randomized study to demonstrate accelerated T cell reconstitution, and the first demonstration of improved immune function," said Deborah Banker, Vice President, Research Communications for the Society.

Variations on the immunotherapy theme are being tested around the world, offering the promise of using a patient's and/or a donor's immune system cells to selectively kill malignant cells with minimal side effects. But, real proof that immunotherapy can work has been elusive.

The short-term benefit of the researchers' procedure will likely be the reduction in post-transplant infections, which are suffered by as many as 40% of transplant patients. Their findings also support the further development of immunotherapy to induce effective anti-tumor immune vaccine responses that could eradicate minimal residual disease and lead to real cures.

As a test case, Dr. June and his colleagues tested the ability of T lymphocytes (T-cells) to be taught to recognize Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, a leading cause of pneumonia and meningitis in the United States. They used an FDA-approved, commercially available pneumococus vaccine to immunize myeloma patients against pneumococcus before bone marrow transplantation.

The patients' blood cells were harvested after immunization and before high dose chemotherapy and the bone marrow transplantation. T-cells from the blood collection were expanded in the laboratory and further "educated" to recognize pneumococcus "targets."

These educated T lymphocytes were given back to patients along with their own stem cells. Finally, patients were revaccinated shortly after they had recovered from the transplant procedure.

Control patient groups allowed the investigators to determine that both pre-transplant immunization, T cell transfer, and post-transplant "boosting" steps were important to successful and rapid immunologic reconstitution that was assessed as clinically meaningful, potentially protective levels of pneumococcal antibody within 30 days post-transplant and normal or above normal specific T cell proliferation in the early post-transplant period.

The team's findings support the idea that immunotherapy can work, and may lead to successful cancer vaccines and cancer cures, in myeloma patients and in patients afflicted with many other cancers.

About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society(R), headquartered in White Plains, NY, with 66 chapters in the United States and Canada, is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. The Society's mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Since its founding in 1949, the Society has invested more than $424 million in research specifically targeting leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Last year alone, the Society made 2.5 million contacts with patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals.

For more information about blood cancer, visit or call the Society's Information Resource Center (IRC), a call center staffed by master's level social workers, nurses and health educators who provide information, support and resources to patients and their families and caregivers. IRC information specialists are available at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.


Andrea Greif


The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

CONTACT: Andrea Greif of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, +1-914-821-8958

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