Bone marrow cancer could be curable in the future – thanks to new drugs and therapies. There are already new treatment options offered by experts at specialized centers such as the University Hospital Leipzig (UKL).
A promising development is CAR-T cell therapy, which has already achieved good results, as reported by the UKL in a press release.
However, it is important that those affected are referred to a specialized center at an early stage. Bone marrow cancer, also known as multiple myeloma, is rare but the second most common hematological disease in the western world. Typical symptoms are bone changes that indicate broken bones. The cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, so about 90 percent of people with multiple myeloma have damaged bones. Other symptoms include anemia, kidney failure and high levels of calcium in the blood.
Ten years of age and more
In the past, treatment options for multiple myeloma were limited. Chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplants were the only options, but they were burdensome and had limited success. For some years now, however, there have been new medications based on three different classes of substances that enable good prognosis even without transplantation. In combination with a stem cell transplant, patients can now be promised ten or more years of life.
When conventional therapies no longer work, CAR-T cell therapy can be the last hope. This innovative cell therapy, which is used at the Leipzig University Hospital, has also received approval for multiple myeloma. According to Maximilian Merz, senior physician at the clinic and polyclinic for hematology, cell therapy, hemostaseology and infectiology at the UKL, the treatment method enables long-term remission (regression of the tumor) and has a response rate of 90 percent, with side effects that are easily manageable at the same time.
This is what happens with CAR-T cell therapy
Here, the patient’s own immune cells are removed and modified in the laboratory so that they can better recognize the tumor cells. They are then returned to the person concerned. This therapy must be prepared individually for each person. It is crucial to isolate the body’s own T cells and modify them in such a way that they only attack the cancer cells and not the healthy cells. “It doesn’t work with T cells from another cancer patient or a blood donor,” explains doctor Susanne Weg-Remers in the FOCUS online interview. She heads the cancer information service of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ).
“The hope for an immediate cure is well founded”
So far, CAR-T treatment has only been used after several prior therapies, but there is also an ongoing study using it right after diagnosis. Merz does not reveal too much research results, but says about the current status: “The hope for immediate healing is well founded.”
The benefits of CAR-T cell therapy are impressive. According to the hematologist, the side effects are minimal, the hospital stay is only two weeks and often no further treatment is required for years. “Imagine a patient who has been in constant therapy for ten years and suddenly no treatment is necessary after CAR-T – that’s absolutely brilliant!” Merz enthuses.
Developments in the treatment of multiple myeloma have improved significantly in a short period of time. Instead of intensive chemotherapy, immunotherapies are used today and the prognosis is much more positive. According to the expert, the goal should be to enable all patients with multiple myeloma to receive CAR-T treatment at a specialized center.