Penn Researchers Repair Immune System in Leukemia Patients Following Chemotherapy


December 12, 2011

Penn Medicine News Release

A new treatment using leukemia patients’ own infection-fighting cells appears to protect them from infections and cancer recurrence following treatment with fludarabine-based chemotherapy, according to new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The new process is a step toward eliminating the harsh side effects that result from the commonly prescribed drug, which improves progression-free survival in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) but destroys patients’ healthy immune cells in the process, leaving them vulnerable to serious viral and bacterial infections. The drug’s effects on the immune system tend to be so violent that it has been dubbed “AIDS in a bottle.” The research team presented results at the 53rd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting, showing how they use a patient’s own T cells to repair his or her immune system after fludarabine treatment. With a restored immune system, patients can stop taking prophylactic antibiotics and may have prolonged progression-free survival. “Fludarabine is a double-edged sword," says Stephen J. Schuster, MD, an associate professor in the division of Hematology-Oncology and director of the Lymphoma Program at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “Although it is very active at killing CLL cells, it is also very active at killing normal cells in the immune system, particularly T lymphocytes, which are the master regulators of the immune system. So you rid the patient of their disease, but you also rid them of a normal immune system.” Read More