Health

The University of Louisville Brown Cancer Center will start enrolling some patients with cancer in clinical trials for an innovative gene therapy.

Doctors at the Cancer Center will remove a patient’s immune system cells, and then those cells will be genetically engineered and reinserted to better fight cancer cells.

Robert Emmons, a Blood and Marrow Transplant physician at the cancer center, said the process involves removing and changing a patient’s own immune system cells.

“We now have learned how to take a patient’s own immune system cells, T cells, that are the cells that help to fight cancer many times by themselves, and make them better cancer fighters by introducing new genes that allow them to directly bind to and attack the specific cancer that we want them to fight,” Emmons said.

Emmons says the center will only enroll about 20 patients initially as the clinical trial is in the initial stages. The goal is to eventually ramp up to many more patients within months or a year.

The diseases the Cancer Center will target are some types of lymphoma and leukemia.

 “This is not in any way standard therapy — there are certainly risks associated with any kind of therapy like this,” Emmons said. “And that’s why the only patients who would qualify for therapy like this will be patients that will have failed other standard therapies that are already approved.”

The new therapy is available because of a gift from Louisville resident Thomas E. Dunbar for the creation of a specialized center that’s able to fulfill requirements from the federal government to participate in the trials. 

Some of these therapies are already available on the consumer market. The U of L clinical trials are for additional types of cancer, and may eventually lead to the development of new drugs. 

 

 

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.