The success of an adoptive cell therapy in shrinking a woman’s tumours could mark a step forward in the fight against other cancers.
An experimental therapy that helps retrain a patient’s own immune system to attack tumours may work in a wide range of common cancers, according to a preliminary US study.
Until now, the greatest successes for a technique known as adoptive cell therapy (ACT) have been seen in melanoma, but researchers are curious to find out if the approach could work in cancers of the digestive tract, lung, pancreas, breast or bladder.
The journal Science published an article on Friday describing how the technique was able to shrink tumours in a 43-year-old woman with advanced cholangiocarcinoma, a form of digestive tract cancer that had spread to her lungs and liver.
The advance could mark a step forward in the fight against epithelial cancer, a group that makes up 80 per cent of all cancers and 90 per cent of cancer deaths in the US.
The process works by collecting the patient’s own immune cells, a kind called tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), selecting those with the best anti-tumour activity and growing them in the lab for re-infusion into the patient.
After the patient received her first injection of these TILs, her metastatic lung and liver tumours stabilised.
About 13 months later, her disease began progressing again, so doctors re-treated her, and she “experienced tumour regression that was ongoing as of the last follow up (six months after the second T-cell infusion),” the study said.
While lead researcher Steven Rosenberg, chief of the Surgery Branch in National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research, cautioned that the research is at an early stage, he said it could offer a “blueprint” for other cancers.