Killer T cells fight back the tumours of transplant patients
Approximately 10% of patients may develop cancer in the first years following an organ transplant, and around 50% of these will die even with standard treatment. The reason for this is that the commonly carried Epstein-Barr virus, which usually causes glandular fever, can in these patients cause tumours. This virus is associated with a blood cancer called post transplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD), and is more dangerous as the immune system of transplant patients is severely suppressed so that a transplanted organ is not rejected.A group at the University of Edinburgh isolated "˜Killer' T cells from a previously created bank of white blood cells from healthy donors. In the body, these T cells target the virus infected cells and kill them. "˜Killer' T cells were grown in the laboratory and given to 33 PTLD patients for one month, as part of a Cancer Research UK-funded trial. Half of the group showed good response after six months, out of which 90% remained cancer free for 4-9 years.The lead researcher Dr Tanzina Haque said: "˜Our results are very encouraging and show that not only are our cells effective in the short term but that they can also induce a long term remission of PTLD in patients with more refractory disease'.A new bank of "˜killer' T cells is currently under development. This project is funded by Wellcome Trust and is being carried out by the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.