Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Futuristic Immunotherapy Treatments Already in Use

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Futuristic Immunotherapy Treatments Already in Use

Article excerpt

Manipulating the immune system to fight disease has been the longstanding goal of medical science.

Then, in 2010, Carl H. June and his University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine research team engineered immune cells to successfully treat two patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia who achieved full remission with partial remission for a third patient. The world took notice and cheered. And that success helped to further inspire immunotherapy research worldwide.

It makes good sense. The immune system is our natural method of healing. So bolster the immune system - the T cells - to treat cancer. Desensitize them to treat autoimmune diseases. Prevent them from rejecting transplanted organs. Make better vaccines to more universally fight viral and bacterial infections.

Then there's inflammation - chronic over-activation of the immune system that adversely affects health on multiple fronts and apparently is a factor in aging.

All of this explains the forces that led to creation of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center in Bloomfield to develop treatments useful to fight cancer, autoimmune disease, transplant rejection and aging.

Typically, academic research centers hand off their drugs to pharmaceutical companies to test, get approval and market. But the center will perform clinical trials then go through the expensive and often lengthy approval process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before marketing and distributing new drug products worldwide.

UPMC officials call the vertical concept as "bench to bedside" - drug development to marketplace.

"It turns out that the immune system has an impact on so many aspects of human health, and more than we originally thought," said Mark Shlomchik, a UPMC endowed professor of immunology and chair of the Pitt School of Medicine's Department of Immunology. "Many people understand the immune system fighting viral or bacterial infections, explaining our natural ability to kill germs. People also are aware of how vaccines work by using noninfectious forms [of the virus or bacteria] to teach the immune system, which has a memory. Then when an infection comes along, it can resist it. …

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