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Exposing cancer to a 'light' therapy.

Exposing cancer to a "light' therapy

An out-of-body blood treatment cancontrol cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), a potentially deadly cancer, according to an international group of researchers. Because of the treatment's success with this white blood cell cancer, the scientists are now investigating it for other diseases, including AIDS.

In the therapy, a light-activated drug istriggered in blood cells removed from the patient's body; when the cells are returned to the patient, they appear to act as a type of vaccine. In 27 of 37 people with advanced CTCL, the approach cleared up the redness and scaling caused by cancer cells in the skin, report researchers from several U.S. and European institutions in the Feb. 5 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. One of the researchers, Richard Edelson of Yale University, had previously described positive results in eight patients (SN: 4/13/85, p.229).

The average survival time for peoplewith advanced CTCL is about 30 months. Since most patients studied haven't been on the drug that long, the researchers aren't ready to call the experimental treatment a cure. But they do claim the therapy, called photopheresis, is the best way to deal with advanced CTCL.

Patients receive a series of treatments,starting each treatment by swallowing an inactive form of the drug psoralen, normally used in treating psoriasis. After the blood cells have absorbed the psoralen, blood is drawn and the white cells, including cancerous ones, are isolated. The rest of the blood goes back into the body; the white cells are exposed to ultraviolet light. The light activates the psoralen, which lethally damages the cells. The cells are then injected into the patient.

The benefits of photopheresis are evidentlydue not to the immediate damage to the treated cells--only 10 to 15 percent of the white cells are dealt with per therapy session--but to vaccination. The dying cells, when reinfused into the body, set off an immune-system reaction against other cancer cells.

Photopheresis may also be useful indealing with autoimmune diseases, where white blood cells mistakenly attack the body. The researchers have just begun a trial against pemphigus, a rare autoimmune disease.

Bruce Wintroub, who was involved inthe CTCL study, is also part of an effort to determine whether photopheresis has any value in treating AIDS. He and his co-workers at the University of California at San Francisco have found that in the laboratory, photopheresis somehow inactivates the AIDS virus in human white blood cells. Whether the approach will work in people with AIDS remains to be determined.
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Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 14, 1987
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