A study which cured almost all its patients of advanced blood cancer originated in Israel.
Professor Zelig Eshhar of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, was at the forefront of a new type of treatment which extracts and genetically modifies white blood cells to help them fight cancer cells.
Out of the 29 leukaemia patients who underwent the study at Pennsylvania University, 27 had their cancer go into remission or vanish completely after being given the altered cells, which are imbued with man-made molecules that allow them to identify and destroy tumour cells.
Prof Eshhar, who pioneered the technique on animals years ago, told The Times of Israel that he felt “a great sense of satisfaction upon hearing the news,” but that he had expected it.
“I’m not surprised to hear about the results. In our lab, we cured many rats and mice of cancer. I have been saying for years that we could do this in people, as well.”
Looking forward, the immunology professor said: “The next task of my lab and others working on this is to expand it and try to attack other forms of cancer.”
But he cautioned that “much more work is needed” before the method could be used for other forms of the disease.
“One issue with this kind of therapy is that you have to develop specific T-cells for each kind of cancer. But studies like those are a great impetus to move forward with research.
“I believe the day will come when we will see many more cancers treated in this manner.”