Holmes recalled that he didn't bat an eye when the doctors proposed an experimental radiation and drug procedure to help boost these cells, even though it had been tested almost solely in mice. "As long as there was any percentage of hope, I just shot for that," he said of the decision he made last year. "I felt privileged to be a human guinea pig."
Findings published in the Sept. 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that the new therapy pioneered at Stanford University School of Medicine has paid off for Holmes and other lymphoma and leukemia patients. Holmes became the 40th person to undergo this procedure after Stanford researchers had shown that it could boost the relative levels of regulatory T cells in the immune system of mice - an effect that turned out to be beneficial before undergoing a hematopoietic (blood) stem cell transplantation, a common treatment for blood cancers.
Blood stem cell transplantation replaces the cancerous blood cells of a leukemia or lymphoma patient with those from a healthy donor. The transplantation cures the cancer, but in up to 80 percent of the cases there is a potentially deadly side effect: The donor's incoming immune cells attack the patient's body as "foreign" in what is known as graft-versus-host disease.
The new method tested at Stanford appears to retain the desired result of the transplantation - killing the cancerous cells - without inducing the acute form of graft-versus-host disease. "It allows you to throw out the one effect but not the other," said Samuel Strober, MD, professor of medicine (immunology and rheumatology) and the senior author of the study.
Among the 37 study participants included in the National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial,
Contact: Mitzi Baker
Stanford University Medical Center