Targeted immunotherapy has been found effective in treating lymphoma associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV-lymphoma) in patients who have received a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), a new study has said.
Lymphoma is a cancer of white blood cells called lymphocytes that are largely responsible for maintaining the body's immunity, and EBV is one of the most common human viruses that can have a long-lasting impact on the body's immune system.
The researchers suggest that immune-compromised patients who receive HSCT, especially from mismatched donors or matched but unrelated donors might be at higher risk of developing EBV-lymphoma than other patients.
And previous studies have shown that EBV-lymphoma occurs most often in the first few months post-transplant.
The researchers hypothesized that aggressive EBV-lymphomas may be responsive to control or eradication with EBV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) treatment. CTLs are highly specialized white blood cells that build the body's defenses against disease.
During the study, they infused EBV-specific CTL lines into two groups of patients: those who were undergoing HSCT and were at high risk of developing EBV-lymphoma, and patients who had already developed lymphoma.
The found that CTL treatment successfully prevented the development of EBV-lymphoma in all 101 patients in the at-risk group.
"Therapy with EBV-specific CTLs was effective for these severely immunocompromised patients," said lead study author Dr Helen Heslop, of the Centre for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, The Methodist Hospital, and Texas Children's Hospital.
"The CTLs successfully reached tumors, multiplied, and were able to kill the tumor cells.
"It's important to note that this promising therapy is not only effective, but it is also a cost-effective option for high-risk patients," she added.
The study appears online in Blood, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology.