Battling Blood Cells

A new treatment for leukaemia has revolutionised medical ideas, which could change modern treatments against cancers into safer and more effective cures.

Symptoms of Leukaemia

Symptoms of Leukaemia

For those of you who don’t know, leukaemia is a form of cancer that origins in the bone marrow and causes an excessive amount of a special type of white blood cell called B-cells.

This new possible cure targets T-cells, another form of white blood cells, whose main function is to produce phagocytes that ‘eat’ the harmful organisms that attack the body. What the researchers have been trying to do is to inject a harmless virus into the T-cells, which then changes its genes to target and destroy a unique molecule that is only found in the surface of B-cells. This way, the B-cells are destroyed, decreasing its numbers and therefore curing this disease.

Now, you may be asking: But won’t this mean that all the B-cells will be killed, weakening the immune system? Well, the answer is no. Not all of the T-cells will be changed genetically, and when those that have been die, they will be substituted naturally by the body to act as they have doing all their life. And the B-cells will also be produced again, though in a much more healthy quantity, as the leukaemia will have been totally cured.

It has been tried on humans already, which extremely positive results. In 5 patients, the leukaemia was cured altogether, 4 of tem in 8 weeks and 1 in only 8 days!

Unluckily, 2 of these 5 patients died, one from a blood clot and the other of a relapse.

Orange ribbon use to represent fight against leukaemia

Orange ribbon use to represent fight against leukaemia

However, with these generally encouraging results, a new test is being prepared with 50 patients this time, which will hopefully fully

demonstrate the beneficial consequences of this treatment and allow it to be used much more often.

But the potential of this treatment doesn’t stop at curing leukaemia. Other cancers, such as prostate cancer, could be cured, but instead of

targeting at one unique molecule, they would target at pairs of molecules. This has been tried in mice already and has shown surprisingly positive results.




Death for CMV

A cytomegalovirus (CMV) cell

For many years, the cytomegalovirus (CMV for short) has infected between 50 and 80 percent of the population in the USA, UK and Australia, and in some parts of Africa, the number of infected is even higher.

This herpes virus can cause a faster cognitive decline, a poorer physical health, blindness, more chances of dying of a cardiovascular disease and can even shorten the life of the victim up to 5 years, the same amount that smoking and drinking alcohol can reduce.


What’s important of this disease is the way in which it attacks the immune system.

With more common viruses, the immune system sends T-cells (lymphocytes) to recognise and remember them, so if they attack in the future, they will be able to produce antibodies before the virus really infects the organism.

With CMV, the immune system works the same way, but the virus itself tricks the T-cells so instead of remembering it, the body trains more cells to make T-cells, shortening the supply of untrained cells, which, altogether decreases the immune system’s life expectancy and leaves the body more defenceless against other infections.

Researchers are now divided about how to treat this infection.

On one hand, some scientists want to give the diseased people a treatment consisting of anti-viral drugs to avoid loosing lifetime.

Experiments were carried out in mice were successful with this treatment: they infected some mice with the cytomegalovirus, and whilst the ones without the treatment lost many of their untrained cells, the ones with the treatment had a healthy number of untrained cells in their immune system.

This treatment method is soon going to be introduced to people over 65, the target people of the investigation.

The other scientists working in this virus want to stop the disease before the infection occurs, so they are trying to create a vaccine.

They believe it is much easier for the patient to have a vaccine than to follow a treatment for months and even years. However, their solution is not that easy to carry out. They will also need to know how the virus infects people, to block the entrance of the virus and make a vaccine. To do this, they carried out experiments on mice too, the results of this showing the virus enters the body through the nose.

Further investigation will take place to try to produce an efficient vaccine.