Different types of T cells play different roles in helping the immune system fight infections. Central memory T cells not only kill infected cells, but remain in the body in case the same infection sparks up again. If it does, they quickly multiply to snuff it out.
“The idea of using T cells to attack tumors is not new,” Turtle said, “but using central memory cells to kill tumors and provide long lasting protection against relapse may add a new dimension to cancer treatment.”
Turtle is the lead investigator on a clinical trial that will test whether central memory T cells can be used to treat patients with leukemia and lymphoma after a bone marrow transplant.
After undergoing a bone marrow transplant, trial participants will receive an infusion of central memory T cells that have been genetically engineered so they can recognize and eliminate their malignancy if it returns. Researchers will follow participants for 15 years after treatment. “The goal, of course, is that they remain cancer-free,” Turtle said.
"Using central memory cells to kill tumors and provide long lasting protection against relapse may add a new dimension to cancer treatment.”
The chance to help unlock the lifesaving potential of central memory cells brought Turtle all the way from Australia to join Dr. Stan Riddell’s lab at Fred Hutch in 2005. Turtle, a bone marrow transplant specialist with an interest in T-cell research, felt Fred Hutch was “the place to be” if he wanted to improve care for leukemia and lymphoma patients.
“I love to see patients get better and get on with their lives after a transplant, but it would be even better if we could make sure their disease never returns,” Turtle said. “Although we still have a lot to learn, central memory T cells could be part of the answer.”