Henry Winter
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Researchers advance the attack on lymphoma-causing virus

Henry Winter
Posted by
21 Aug 2012

Researchers at the University of Birmingham hope to improve and accelerate treatment for a virus-associated lymphoma by studying the cells used in its treatment. 

Dr Heather Long has been awarded £150,000 by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to refine current treatment for lymphomas caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

Usually the body’s immune system has a strong reaction to EBV and uses specialised cells, called T cells, to destroy the virus and prevent lymphoma development.  

However following organ transplants, when patients’ immune systems are purposefully weakened to avoid transplant rejection, EBV can emerge unnoticed by the immune system.  This inadvertently allows the virus to take hold in the body and causes lymphoma to develop in up to 1 in 20 transplant patients.

Current treatments for this include the injection of specific ‘anti-EBV’ donor T cells to provoke a response and kill the virus in patients.  Preparation of these cells currently takes 6-8 weeks but the team hope to speed this up by shedding light on how the cells attack the virus – an aspect of the treatment that remains unknown.  

Dr Heather Long, head of the team at the University of Birmingham, said: “We believe that finding the properties of T cells that allow them to effectively attack EBV will help to develop an improved treatment that will be more effective and more rapidly available.”

The team will research the CD4+ group of T cells, whose presence in donor T cells injected into the patient was recently shown to improve patient response rates.  As this is a mixed group of cells the team aim to reveal those CD4+ cells that are most efficient in attacking EBV.  

Results from this work will enable researchers to refine the treatment so that only the cells best suited to attacking the virus are used.  It will also shed light on how the cells attack the virus.

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “With recent research showing the benefit of this group of cells it is important to study them further and isolate the most active cells to create a rapid and effective treatment for the condition.”

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