New Combination Therapy for Rare Form of Leukemia Shows Promise

Combination of immunotherapy and epigenetics put patients into remission, even after failing the standard treatment.

Combination of immunotherapy and epigenetics put patients into remission, even after failing the standard treatment.

Scientists have successfully put patients with a rare, deadly form of leukemia into remission by using a new combination therapy.

Thomas Loughran, MD, of University of Virginia, and Elliot Epner, MD, of the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, have found that combining immunotherapy and epigenetics put patients with T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia into remission, even after they failed the standard treatment.

Immunotherapy, which attempts to boost the body's immune system, has been rising in success over the past few years. When combined with epigenetics, the manipulation of gene activity, the results have proven to be even more promising.

While this therapy combination did not cure the patients, they were able to achieve remission, some even multiple times. One patient with a 4-month life expectancy survived 34 months following treatment.

Remission allows patients more time to find matching donors for stem cell replacement, a potentially life-saving treatment. In order to be eligible for this transplant, patients must first be in remission. Any treatment that puts these patients into remission time can be life changing.

The results thus far have been positive, and both immunotherapy and epigenetics treatments are already available to the public. Even so, Loughran would like to conduct more research on the therapy with a larger test group. The rarity of the disease makes this difficult however, as there were only 8 people in the pilot study.

Anyone afflicted with this disease is encouraged to seek treatment at UVA.

"We'd be very glad to see them here, if they want to come see us," says Loughran.

The study results have been published online by the journal Science Translational Medicine.