Researchers testing cell therapy for viral infections

Researchers in Madison plan to test a personalized cell therapy for viral infections in bone marrow transplant patients — a first for Wisconsin.

An upcoming clinical trial in Madison, approved by the FDA, will include both adults and children. About 20 participants are expected.

Dr. Inga Hofmann is principal investigator for the trial and medical director for the UW Program for Advanced Cell Therapy. She says the trial is set to enroll patients immediately through a partnership with UW Health.

“While some European countries might offer this type of treatment as standard care, it is considered experimental in the United States,” Hofmann said.

The study will rely on white blood cells collected from living relatives with stronger immune systems. Those cells will target cytomegalovirus, a viral infection that hits as many as 50 percent of all bone marrow transplant recipients.

According to a release from PACT, this will be the first time such a therapy will be performed in the state.

While the virus can be deadly to recent recipients of donor bone marrow, it affects nearly a third of all children by age 5. Since most people have stable immune systems, it normally presents symptoms like fever, fatigue and swollen glands. But for those with weakened immune systems, the infection can kill.

The release shows some antiviral treatments can have unwanted side effects such as reduced kidney function. That’s why the personalized therapy approach can be a safe and effective alternative, according to PACT director Dr. Jacques Galipeau.

“The use of living cells collected from relatives with intact immunity to cure viral complications of transplantation is an entirely new therapy for a vexing problem,” he said.

Those cells are manipulated by scientists so they can better find and eliminate traces of the virus once they’re introduced to the body. That process will take place at PACT’s manufacturing facility at University Hospital in Madison.

“We believe it is critically important to assess these types of cellular therapies through a clinical trial to carefully monitor safety and efficacy,” Hofmann said. “It also allows us to continue to learn how we can improve such treatments and how they work.”

See more on the clinical trial: