Treatment saved ~90% of terminal cancer patients, but it has scary side effects

Militarizing the body’s natural immune responses so that it can fight off cancerous uprisings has been seen as a promising strategy for years. Now, a sneak peek of data from a small clinical trial suggests that the method may in fact be as useful as doctors hope—but there’s still some serious kinks to work out.

In a trial of 29 people with a deadly form of leukemia—acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—and no other treatment options, 27 went into remission after scientists plucked some of their immune cells, engineering them to fight cancer, then replaced them. The method was also successful at treating handfuls of patients with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The preliminary, unpublished findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.