Cells that kill cancer
Tumors are sly. To survive, the cells bypass our immune systems by retaining similarities to healthy cells. But they also have differences. Over the past decade, researchers have targeted these unique traits to re-enlist the body’s department of defense. Immunotherapies train our own systems to detect those distinct variances. This year, that effort took a huge leap: The FDA approved Kymriah, the first human gene-edited therapy for cancer. The treatment modifies a patient’s T cells (specialized white blood cells) to add a receptor that locates the malignant ones so the killer T’s can attack them. In trials, 83 percent of patients were in remission after three months. One reason Kymriah works so well is that it’s the most customized method to date: The modified cells are specific to both the patient and their disease. Rubber-stamped to kill a type of leukemia in young people, Kymriah and drugs like it could one day treat many other cancers, changing medicine’s approach to the disease for good.