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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.
Aldona Kutkowska

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