Therapy turns patients’ cells into cancer smart bombs

Global, News — By on March 6, 2010 at 11:35 am

(CNN) – On today’s AM house call, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported a remarkable story about a cancer vaccine that is working on a woman who, according to statistics, should probably be dead by now. Doctors say what seems like a medical miracle could become the norm.

Instead of using surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, researchers from the National Institutes of Health are finding so-far limited but inspiring success in a new approach for fighting cancer, using the immune system to attack the tumors the way it would a cold or flu.

The human immune system doesn’t usually fight cancer on its own, so Dr. Steven Rosenberg and his NIH colleagues are trying to genetically engineer it, using a virus they created in the lab that seeks out cancer tumors and attaches to them.

Rosenberg’s idea: Mix the cells that seek out the cancer with the immune cells that destroy things and see whether it would create a sort of smart bomb for the cancer. (Rosenberg: ‘Just a start’)

In the study, Rosenberg tested the approach in 17 patients with advanced melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer. All the conventional treatments for the disease already had failed in all of the patients.

In 15 of the patients Rosenberg’s engineered immune-cell treatment didn’t work, but in two of the patients the cancer seems to have completely disappeared. The findings are published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.

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