Sunday, December 8, 2013

ASH: Gene Therapy

The ASH stories keep rolling in.

This one is from Yahoo! News -- a big enough deal to make it to the mainstream press. The piece is called "Gene Therapy Scores Big Wins Against Blood Cancers." The focus is not on Follicular Lymphoma, but it seems important enough, and adaptable enough, to consider it a possibility in our futures.

Gene therapy involves removing T cells and reprogramming them to go after cancer cells. A little reminder about how the body normally works: when an invader (bacteria, or a virus) enters the blood stream, it is attacked by white blood cells. There are several types, including B cells (which go nutty in ways that result in Follicular Lymphoma) and T cells, which attack the invaders in a variety of ways. (Here's a nice video that shows you more detail, if you're interested.) As long as things are working normally, the immune system can identify anything that doesn't belong and take acre of it. 

Of course, cancer is the definition of things not working normally. Cancer cells don't belong, but they are able to mask themselves in ways that make the immune system think that they do belong. And they have the nasty ability to figure out how to get around any attempts to get them to drop that mask. (Cancer cells are stupid smart.) 

Gene therapy messes with cancer cells in cool ways. T cells are removed from the patient's body and then reprogrammed in ways that allow them to get behind the mask, identify cancer cells as invaders, and get rid of them. 

This isn't a single process; there are several presentations, from different teams, targeting different cancers, that fall under the general idea of "gene therapy." It seems like one project that targets leukemia (both acute and chronic) is the longest and most successful. The Yahoo article discusses a couple of others that deal with "lymphoma," but they don't give any indication of what type (Hodgkin's or Non? Aggressive or Indolent? Can't say.) I tried to search the ASH abstracts using just the names of the universities that are mentioned in the article, to see if I could find which sessions discuss gene therapy. I couldn't find them very easily. Oh well. 

I also looked in the "ASH News Daily" newsletter that gets published during the conference, to see if there is anything in there about it. I'll look more later; I got too distracted by the "Hematology Crossword Puzzle" on page A8 of the Saturday edition. (The clue for 16 Across: "Pre-endoscopy rectal cleansing." Five letters. I wish I was kidding...Don't doctors want some vocabulary-based entertainment that gives them a little bit of a break from work, for crying out loud?)

Anyway, the Yahoo article is certainly exciting, and it's one more reason for some hope. I've got a couple more press releases and news stories that I'm looking at, that I hope will be worth sharing over the next couple of days.)


Anonymous said...

You've mentioned a support group for follicular lymphoma but I don't think you've ever provided a link. I know I'm off subject, but I have cancer so I can take liberties ;).

So, what's the link? Is it a private group?

Lymphomaniac said...

The group is open to anyone who registers; it's the Web Magic group. This link should get you there (let me know if it doesn't):

It's a great group -- very supportive, very knowledgeable, and very much into evidence-based discussions (which I appreciate a lot). I don't post as much as I used to, but I still check in every day.

Good luck. I hope you find the support you need.

Anonymous said...

You have lots of useful info. I suggest adding a blogroll with links to sites you frequent, in one accessible list.

Lymphomaniac said...

Yeah, that's been on my list of things to do for a while. Thanks for the reminder. I'll try to give it another shot soon.
~ Bob