If successful, the team plan to develop a new clinical trial to test this treatment. Such a trial will increase the treatment options for young sarcoma patients at relapse, where chemotherapy has failed.
Professor Anderson and his team plan to use an approach called adoptive immunotherapy – first, doctors take a sample of a patient’s own blood cells. In the lab, these cells are then genetically modified to recognise a particular target (called an antigen) and then injected back into the patient. Once these genetically modified cells, called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), come into contact with the antigen, these cells activate the patient’s immune system to fight the cell.
The team have already successfully used this approach to treat chemotherapy-resistant neuroblastomas, and a trial is now underway at Great Ormond Street Hospital to investigate this treatment option for sarcoma, solid tumours that can occur in the bone or soft tissue, which include Ewing sarcoma, osteosarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma. These cancers have a dismal prognosis if they relapse or metastasise. Only about 1% of adults with cancer suffer from sarcoma, but 15% of children with cancer suffer from sarcoma.