What’s new in childhood leukemia research?
Research into all aspects of childhood leukemia is now being done at many medical centers and hospitals.
Scientists are making great progress in understanding how changes in the genes inside bone marrow cells can cause them to change into leukemia cells. Today, there are much better tests for finding the disease and for telling exactly what kind of leukemia a child has and how well treatment is working. For example, one test (called PCR) can help tell how much of the leukemia has been destroyed by treatment, and whether a relapse will occur if further treatment is not given.
Clinical trials are studying why some children with leukemia have a relapse, which children need more intense treatment, which drugs work the best, and whether natural substances made by the body can help the immune system fight the leukemia cells. These and many other issues are being addressed in clinical trials. Answers to these questions will mean better treatment of childhood leukemia in the future.
Immunotherapy is treatment that boosts a child’s own immune system to help fight leukemia. Some types of immunotherapy have shown a lot of promise in treating ALL, even when other treatments are no longer working.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy: In this treatment, immune cells called T cells are removed from the child’s blood and altered in the lab to help them attack leukemia cells. The T cells are then grown in the lab and given back into the child’s blood.
This technique has shown very encouraging results in early clinical trials against some advanced, hard-to-treat cases of ALL. In many children the leukemia could no longer be detected after treatment, although it’s not yet clear if these children have been cured.
Monoclonal antibodies: Man-made versions of immune proteins, called monoclonal antibodies, can be designed to attack a specific target, such as a protein on the surface of leukemia cells.
An example is blinatumomab (Blincyto), a special kind of monoclonal antibody that can attach to 2 different proteins at the same time. This drug acts as a tiny bridge to bring immune cells and leukemia cells together, which is thought to cause the immune system to attack the leukemia cells. Early results with this drug against B-cell ALL have been promising, although so far it has been studied more in adults than in children.
Last Medical Review: 05/13/2015
Last Revised: 02/03/2016