Metastatic melanoma cells
What’s the News: Souped-up cells from a patient’s own immune system could one day be used to treat advanced melanoma, according to a preliminary study published in Science Translational Medicine investigating the safety of the technique. The researchers manipulated a patient’s immune system cells to better recognize cancer cells in the lab and then re-introduced those cells into the body—an approach called “adoptive T-cell therapy.”
In patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, researchers have found a way to turn cells in the patients’ own immune system into cancer-fighting machines. In a new study, researchers injected patients with a drug that helped immune cells attach themselves to tumor cells. The study saw considerable improvement in only 11 of the 38 patients in this preliminary trial, but researchers say the results are significant because all seven of the patients who received the highest dose of medication saw their tumors shrink. In four cases, the tumors completely vanished.
The new results are the latest promising finding in the developing field of immunotherapy, in which the body’s own defenses are augmented and then unleashed to fight back disease. Researchers are also investigating ways to train the immune system to attack brain cancer tumors, and in June doctors announced that a patient with advanced skin cancer was free of the disease two years after they injected him with billions of his own immune cells [Telegraph].
When “Patient Number Four” came to a cancer research center in Seattle to receive experimental treatment for his advanced melanoma, he already looked like a goner. The 52-year-old man’s skin cancer had already spread to his lungs and throughout his lymph nodes, and the tumors had not responded to other therapies. But something about the man’s biology made him the lucky one. Two months later, scans showed the tumours had disappeared, and after two years, the man remained disease-free [BBC News].
In the ground-breaking treatment, the Seattle researchers focused on a type of white blood cell that is programmed to attack tumor cells. They drew one single immune cell from Patient Four’s blood and cloned it in the laboratory, making 5 billion copies over three months. Finally, the researchers gave Patient Four an infusion of the cloned cancer-fighting cells, which appear to have rallied the man’s immune system, fighting back the tumors and sending his cancer into remission.