Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Full Recovery From Metastasized Colon Cancer

A woman with a type of colon cancer that had already metastasized to her lungs has now recovered, thanks to a new type of cancer therapy that relies on her own immune cells.  It may be too early to say that she is cured forever, but apparently she is now tumor-free.

The therapy relied on a type of immune cell called a tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL).  TILs are naturally occurring immune cells that recognize the specific genetic mutations in a tumor.  They attach to the tumor cells, attacking and killing them but leaving normal cells alone.  In most patients there aren't enough of these cells, though, to stop the cancer from growing.  In the specific patient case presented in the article, the researchers isolated some of these TIL cells from the woman's tumors, grew them in the laboratory, and then returned them (100 billion of them, in fact) to the patient, where they attacked and destroyed her tumors.

Researchers caution that this is the first and only time that this type of therapy has worked completely; a previous attempt in another patient had failed, probably because too few TILs were harvested.   However, a similar approach has been used to produce long periods of remission in 20-25% of patients with advanced melanoma, a particularly deadly form of skin cancer.  And similar experiments are underway with TILs found on other soft-tissue cancers such as pancreatic cancer.

With findings like this, we may yet see some cancers curable in our lifetimes.

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