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Patients with stunning responses to T-cell therapy turn out to have an existing, ample supply of  “memory” T cells, a subset that primes the immune system to watch for rogues. Although several types of memory T cells have been identified, the Penn-Novartis team discovered a completely new subset by analyzing the results of 41 patients who received T-cell therapy for chronic lymphoblastic leukemia, or CLL.

The analysis, published Monday in Nature Medicine, found distinctive protein markers — a sort of genetic fingerprint — on this subset of memory T cells. The researchers validated this fingerprint by using it to forecast responses in eight CLL patients before they underwent T-cell therapy. All four whose cancer disappeared were correctly predicted.

In theory, this genetic fingerprint could be used to pre-select patients who would respond to T-cell therapy, and screen out those who should not undergo the costly, complex process. (Kymriah, a one-dose infusion, costs 5,000, not including hospitalization costs, and takes several weeks to bioengineer from the patients’ T cells.)

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Dear Ecouterre readers, We want to thank you for sharing this journey with us for the past eight years. Ecouterre.com broke ground in 2009...