Leukemia is a type of cancer that involves abnormal growth of blood cells. Most blood cells are made in the bone marrow, a spongy tissue inside our bones. There are three main types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells (called lymphocytes), and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells fight infections, and platelets help with clotting to stop bleeding.
Inside the bone marrow, there are special cells called blood stem cells. These cells can develop into any of the three types of blood cells. Healthy cells go through many stages of development and eventually become functioning red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.
Leukemia begins when one immature blood cell undergoes changes in its DNA that tells it to stop developing. This one cell now begins dividing to produce more cells like itself. These cells grow quickly, live longer, and keep dividing. As a result, they overcrowd the bone marrow and prevent the production of healthy blood cells.
There are four main types of leukemia:
- acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL),
- chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL),
- acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and
- chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
Doctors classify leukemia based on how quickly the disease progresses and the type of blood cells involved. Acute leukemias develop rapidly and worsen quickly without treatment, while chronic leukemias progress more slowly. Myeloid leukemias mainly affect red blood cells and platelets and lymphocytic or lymphoblastic leukemias mainly affect white blood cells.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of fast-growing leukemia that affects white blood cells.
As with all leukemias, the problem starts with mutations in the DNA of developing blood cells in the bone marrow. In ALL, these mutations stop lymphoblasts from developing into mature white blood cells (lymphocytes). Mutations also cause these abnormal cells to grow and divide quickly crowding out the production of healthy white blood cells. This means there are too many immature cells that can't fight infections and not enough mature cells. Over time, the leukemia cells can leave the bone marrow and travel through the bloodstream. They can spread to different parts of the body, like the brain or testicles. When someone is diagnosed with ALL, they usually have lower levels of healthy blood cells. This can cause problems like anemia, infections, and bleeding or bruising easily.
An emergence of a new treatment, for many years, the cornerstones of cancer treatment have been surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Recent years have seen the emergence of cancer immunotherapy, in which treatments harness the power of a patient’s immune system to combat their disease.
T cells are a type of white blood cell that form part of the immune system’s natural protection against cancer and infection. Normally our T cells can detect and eliminate abnormal or cancerous cells but sometimes these cells can escape detection and develop into tumors.
To overcome this problem Autolus is applying its advanced cell programming technologies and specialized manufacturing processes to develop programming T cell product candidates.