Cancer 'cure' for advanced melanoma
Have they really found a cure for cancer?
That is the case for a 52-year-old man who is free of melanoma after undergoing extensive treatment in which his own cells were cloned outside his body and then replaced to attack the tumours. It is now two years after the remarkable therapy and he is still healthy and cancer-free.
The 52-year-old man involved was free of melanoma two years after treatment.
US researchers, reports the New England Journal of Medicine, took cancer-fighting immune cells, made five billion copies, then put them all back.
Scientists in the UK warned that further trials would need to be done to prove how well the treatment worked.
The body's immune system plays a significant role in the battle against cancer, and doctors have been looking for ways to boost this tumour-killing response.
The 52-year-old man had advanced melanoma which had spread to the lungs and lymph nodes.
Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle concentrated on a type of white blood cell called a CD4+ T cell.
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From a sample of the man's white blood cells, they were able to select CD4+ T cells which had been specifically primed to attack a chemical found on the surface of melanoma cells.
These were then multiplied in the laboratory, and put back in their billions to see if they could mount an effective attack on the tumours.
Two months later, scans showed the tumours had disappeared, and after two years, the man remained disease-free.
The new cells persisted in the body for months after the treatment.
While claiming this as a world first, the study authors pointed out that their technique applied only to a patient with a particular type of immune system and tumour type, and could work for only a small percentage of people with advanced skin cancer.
The researchers said that although the news is "pretty exciting" with potentially wide application, the projects' leader, Dr Cassian Yee, says that confirming the effectiveness of the treatment will require a more extensive study. As cancer continues to take the lives of millions each year, I say that any step forward, no matter how small, is wonderful news.