A promising clinical trial co-sponsored by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is underway at Hoxworth Blood Center for bone marrow transplant patients. It uses their own blood to fight infection before their immune system is able to.
The antiviral T cell treatment was originally developed at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Then, through a technology transfer funded by the Heimlich Foundation, scientists at Hoxworth perfected it.
Hoxworth Division Director of Cellular Therapies Tom Leemhuis, Ph.D., says post-transplant patients are immunocompromised for several months and susceptible to different viruses. "They respond to drugs for the most part, but there's a significant number of patients that don't and they are responding to this cell therapy now," he says.
In fact, in this clinical trial involving children, he says 80 percent are responding long enough until their own immune system recovers.
What Is The Therapy?
Leemhuis and his staff receive six tubes of blood from the patient (50 ml) before the transplant. A sub-type of white blood cells are isolated. They are called lymphocytes. Viral antigens that Hoxworth purchases are introduced, and the lymphocytes develop a resistance to them. This personalized "drug" is frozen and ready for the patient to use if he or she develops an infection.
Down the road regular T-cell donors will be needed for patients who cannot supply their own blood. According to Children's Medical Director of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Immune Dificiency, Dr. Michael Grimley, "Right now it's called a custom manufacture where we manufacture for individual patients. But one avenue which would potentially replace this would be to have a global bank for donors."
They would represent enough of a diversity so these donors would be solicited to give on a regular basis."
Hoxworth isn't the only center working on an antiviral T cell treatment. Leemhuis says four to five other groups of researchers worldwide are as well.
When Will This Be Ready For The Public, And Could Others Benefit?
The antivirus T cell therapy, Leemhuis estimates, could be on the market in less than five years.
Leemhuis is investigating whether these cells would be useful for other people who didn't get a bone marrow transplant. He says researchers are starting another clinical trial for adults who have received a new kidney.