Store Your Own Blood Cells to Fight off Disease; GoodHealth / 'IMMUNE SYSTEM BANK' COULD HELP BEAT CANCER
Byline: JUDY HOBSON
SCIENTISTS have developed the ultimate health insurance policy - a way of banking cells from your body's immune system to use as treatment for serious infection and disease in the future.
Parents can already have stem cells from their baby's umbilical cord stored for use in case of future illness. Now, the world's first 'immune system' bank has been set up in Wales, offering people the chance to store white blood cells, a key component in the body's defence system.
The idea is that if you become ill, the white blood cells are 'activated' by putting them in a test tube with a special protein and then returned to your body via a drip.
White blood cell treatment - or 'adoptive immunotherapy' - has become a recognised way of treating cancer in America, where it is being used for melanoma, liver, kidney and lung cancers.
In a small U.S. study reported in the journal Science this autumn, two out of 15 patients with melanoma treated with adoptive immunotherapy remained diseasefree two years later - despite having been given just weeks to live.
In Britain, Cancer Research UK is funding a variety of projects looking into ways the immune system can be used to treat cancer. These include trials using white blood cells to treat liver, bone, head and neck cancers.
'These projects are at an early stage, but the results look promising,' says Dr Kat Arney, senior science information officer for Cancer Research UK.
Currently, white blood cells used in immunotherapy are collected from patients after they have fallen ill and are therefore of inferior quality.
But with the immune system bank, healthy people can have their cells collected and stored - the theory being that these cells will be even more effective fighting diseases such as cancer.
Lifeforce Immune System Bank, which is authorised by the Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has already received 170 donations.
The bank is the brainchild of Dr Alison Davies, a respiratory physiologist from South Wales, who set it up with Professor Bradley Stringer, a specialist in bone cell therapy at Cardiff University.
It was while she was watching a TV programme about using umbilical cord blood to treat leukaemia patients that Dr Davies saw the potential in extracting white blood cells from the immune system before the onset of disease and freezing them. She has since taken out a patent on the idea.
The bank uses the same kind of collection procedure as the National Blood Service. Blood is taken from the donor and put in a centrifuge, where it is separated into three constituents - plasma, red cells and white cells.
The white blood cells are extracted by a special machine and stored in liquid nitrogen vapour at minus 200c. …