Can promising results for leukemia therapy translate to CFS?

Perspective, Understanding CFS | 12. Aug, 2011 by | 6 Comments


Immune system T-cells, center, binding to beads which cause the cells to divide. (AP)

By K. Kimberly McCleary, President & CEO

A pilot study of a new way to treat leukemia appears very promising based on data from researchers at University of Pennsylvania published this week in two journals, the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Research , and reported by major media outlets around the world. Here are two news stories that describe the intense enthusiasm generated by data from this three-person clinical trial:

‘Amazing’ therapy wipes out leukemia in study
By Stephanie Nano, Associated Press

Gene therapy advance trains immune system to fight leukemia
By Joe Palca, National Public Radio “Booster Shots”

The approach used by this UPenn research team is much like a phase I study of CFS that Dr. Nancy Klimas conducted a decade ago in which she “treated” extracted lymph node cells to improve their “killing” ability and then reinfused them to the donor:

Clinical and immunologic effects of autologous lymph node cell transplant in CFS
NG Klimas, R Patarca-Montero, K Maher, M Smith, O Bathe and MA Fletcher
Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Vol . 8(1) 2001

Thirteen CFS patients (10 women and three men) were enrolled in the study; two had fibrotic lymph nodes and no viable cells were available for the procedure. Cells extracted from 11 remaining subjects were able to be expanded and reinfused. Nine of 11 patients had significant improvements. The paper describing the study states, “The immunotherapy was very well tolerated by the patients in the trial. Most encouraging was the indication of improved cognitive function and improved physical well-being.”

However, the immunology results were not as robust as the investigators hoped, “No significant change was observed in the number or cytotoxic activity of circulating natural killer cells during the 24 weeks following the infusion of the ex vivo expanded lymph node cells.” They acknowledge that the trial involved only one round of expansion-reinfusion and a small sample size. The pilot study was supported by a grant from the Solve ME/CFS Initiative , NIH Center Grant 1UD1-AI 45940-02 and funds from Neoprobe Corp. and Ciratech Corp.

Unfortunately, the company developing the lymph-expansion technology, Neoprobe, didn’t pursue further study. Dr. Klimas got the company interested in CFS when she was conducting a study of the same technology in HIV/AIDS patients. It appears the company has since shifted its focus to cancer. Dr. Klimas still believes this approach to therapy holds promise for treating CFS.

I’m certain I’m not the only person who recalled this study when I read yesterday’s headlines. Perhaps the success of the leukemia study can be translated to CFS.

Note: Thanks to Gary Schwitzer and his HealthNewsReview blog for illuminating the contrasts in reporting on the leukemia study.

K. Kimberly McCleary has served as the Association’s chief staff executive since 1991

August 12, 2011