MEMPHIS, Tenn., March 19, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The United States Patent and Trademark Office today awarded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital U.S. patent number 8,399,645 for St. Jude's invention of compositions for genetically modifying human immune cells so they can destroy some of the most common forms of cancer in children and adults. "This groundbreaking invention enables human immune cells to recognize and attack certain cells that cause leukemia and lymphoma, cancers of the blood and lymphatic tissue," said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude scientific director. The patented technology represents a potentially potent new therapeutic weapon against such diseases as B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Each year approximately 71,650 people in the United States are diagnosed with these diseases. The invention involves genetically modifying human immune cells to enable them to manufacture a large protein molecule called a "chimeric antigen receptor" (CAR). The protein molecule is "chimeric" in that it is made from parts that do not exist together in the same molecule in nature. It is a "receptor" because a portion of it extends outside the surface of the immune cell and can receive signals from external "antigens." An antigen is a substance capable of stimulating an immune response in the human body. The CAR invented by St. Jude fits and latches onto "CD19" antigens prevalent on the B cells that cause ALL, CLL and NHL. It then stimulates the human immune cell to attack and kill the B cells. "This exciting invention provides a new and promising treatment option for children and adults with these life-threatening diseases and sets the stage for treating other forms of cancer with cellular immunotherapy," Downing said. In view of the landmark nature of the patent and the extraordinary potential of the technology for widespread use, St. Jude will make the technology available for license.