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Study finds gene therapy treatment for leukemia still effective 10 years later

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say that 10 years after treating two leukemia patients with an experimental gene therapy, both men were still in remission.

The doctors wrote about the cases in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The treatment is called CAR-T cell therapy, and involves genetically changing T cells so they immediately attack cancer, The Associated Press reports. The cells remain in the body for years, and as they evolve, they keep the cancer at bay.

This was the first time the therapy has been studied for 10 years, the doctors said, and based on the results, "we can now conclude that CAR-T cells can actually cure patients of leukemia," said Dr. Carl June, an author of the study.

The treatment only has to be done one time, with the patient's T cells collected, modified, and then returned through an IV. Doug Olson, one of the men who received the gene therapy, was first diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1996. He said that several weeks after going through the treatment in 2010, his doctor told him, "We cannot find a single cancer cell in your body."

Olson, 75, told AP he is still doing "great," and remains "very active. I was running half marathons until 2018. This is a cure. And they don't use the word lightly." The other patient doctors tracked also did well after the treatment, and died of COVID-19 complications last year.

In the U.S. and several other countries, CAR-T cell therapies are now approved for some blood cancers, and scientists are hopeful that there will soon be similar treatments for other types of cancers.