Six years after they administered an injection to a 15-year-old city girl suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare cancerous condition, researchers have shown that the patient hasn’t had recurrences.
“We gave the patient only one dose of NK (natural killer) cells using autologous immune enhancement therapy (AIET) and followed it up with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and she is doing well,” said Dr John Victor, who works with the Nichi-in Centre for Regenerative Medicine, an Indo-Japanese collaboration, the lab for which is at Loyola College.
The findings of the five-year follow-up of the patient’s health, done at Apollo Hospitals, was recently published in the Indian Journal of Haematology and Blood Transfusion. “This cancer indicates that there is a gene mutation, for which normally stem cell treatment is being used. But, we tried giving her just one dosage of NK cells and it worked quite well on the mutation — it meant that cancer-producing cells were also destroyed,” he added.
She wasn’t able to get a stem cell transplant via a bone marrow extraction because there were no donor matches available.
This type of cancer affects about 25,000-30,000 people annually in the country, but hardly 250-300 bone marrow extractions are done annually. “There are a lot of people who can be healed if this protocol is tried. We have since given it to 60-70 patients with forms of leukemia and some have needed repeated dosages of NK cells,” he said.
While the technique has been used in Japan for over two decades, this is the first time that it has been used in India.
While the NK cells have to be extracted from each patient’s body, the process of extraction is complicated and time-consuming, “It costs around `3.5 lakh per extraction now, but that is for a research facility,” said Dr Victor.