An experimental treatment of fighting a deadly form of leukemia with the HIV virus is giving a Utah family hope or the future.

In 2012 Marshall Jensen was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

For the past three years, Jensen and his family have traveled across the United States for surgeries, treatments and procedures in hopes of fighting his leukemia. Unfortunately, the cancer returned after several treatments.

Jensen then learned about a team of researchers at Penn Medicine. This team of researchers has spent two decades developing an experimental treatment that kills cancer in otherwise incurable leukemia patients.

The therapy uses the HIV virus to fight the cancer. It is a disabled virus, but retains one essential feature, the ability to insert new gene into cells.

The therapy requires billions of T-cells to be taken from the caner patient’s body. The DNA in the T-cells is then altered with a harmless form of the HIV virus. The new cells are programmed to recognize, target and kill the cancer, they essentially become leukemia-specific killers. The newly altered cells are then reintroduced into the body.

According to researchers, the cells stay dormant in the body unless the cancer returns.

Jenson’s cancer is now in remission and he returned home Thursday.

Jenson is far from the only success story. A recent study showed a 90% remission rate among those receiving similar treatment. Usually a 3% improvement in the remission rate is considered a success for a new therapy.

About 30 patients with an acute form of leukemia were given the treatment. Of those, all but 3 went into remission. These patients were originally only given a few weeks to live and 23 were still alike six months or later. Unfortunately, 7 of those patients have since died, but 19 are still cancer-free, including 15 who have had no other treatment.

Unfortunately, the treatment doe have serious side effects and put eight of the patients in intensive care.

The next step in the research is to use gene therapy to fight other cancers. Trials are set to start this summer for patients with pancreatic cancer


Gerry Oginski
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