Cancer researchers are reporting advances in a new treatment for melanoma that boosts a patient’s own immune-system defenses to combat advanced cases of the disease.
The small preliminary study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested the effectiveness of treating patients using billions of clones of their own tumor-fighting cells combined with a specific type of chemotherapy.
Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle reported one of 11 patients studied experienced complete remission after the new treatment and in four others the melanoma stopped growing.
Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, develops in the pigment-producing cells of the skin.
Dr. Cassian Yee, the study’s lead researcher, said the aim of the trial was to find the best way to boost the power of cancer patients’ tumor-fighting T cells (a type of white blood cell the body's immune system uses to attack a protein associated with cancer). Yee and colleagues extracted such cells from 11 patients with melanoma who were no longer responding to conventional treatment and cloned them in the lab before re-introducing them back into the patients’ bloodstreams.
"Our results confirm that if we can develop methods to grow these kinds of cells in the lab, then we can give these high-proliferating, helper-independent T cells to all patients for T-cell therapy," Yee said. "Fortunately, we have been able to achieve this goal and are in the process of treating patients in an ongoing study with these helper-independent T cells." he added.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.