Source: The Guardian
A woman with advanced breast cancer which had spread around her body has been completely cleared of the disease by a groundbreaking therapy that harnessed the power of her immune system to fight the tumors. She was cared for at the US National Cancer Institute in Maryland.
Judy Perkins, an engineer from Florida, was 49 when she was selected for the radical new therapy after several rounds of routine chemotherapy failed to stop a tumor in her right breast from growing and spreading to her liver and other areas. At the time, she was given three years to live.
To create the treatment, doctors first cut small pieces of tissue from Perkins’s tumours and studied the DNA to find mutations specific to her cancer. They focused on mutations that disrupted four genes which produced an array of abnormal proteins in the tumors.
Next, the doctors extracted immune cells known as tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, or TILs, from the tumor biopsies. These are cells from the patient’s immune system that have invaded the tumor in a bid to kill it, but which failed in the task by being either too weak or too few in number.
After growing billions of these immune cells in the lab, the researchers screened them to find which ones would most effectively find and destroy the woman’s cancer cells by recognizing their abnormal proteins.
The doctors treated Perkins by injecting 80 billion of the carefully-selected immune cells into her body. The therapy was given alongside pembrolizumab, a standard drug that can help the immune system to attack cancers. Tests after 42 weeks showed Perkins was completely cancer free. She has remained so ever since.
“I had a tumor pressing on a nerve, which meant I spent my time trying not to move at all to avoid pain shooting down my arm,” Perkins adds. “After the treatment dissolved most of my tumors, I was able to go for a 40-mile hike.
“I had resigned my job and was planning on dying. I had a ‘bucket list’ of things I needed to do, like going to the Grand Canyon. Now, I have gone back to normal everyday life.”
The dramatic success has raised hopes that the therapy will work in more patients with advanced breast cancer and other difficult to treat cancers, such as ovarian and prostate. Researchers are now planning full scale clinical trials to assess how effective the treatment could be.
Simon Vincent, director of research at Breast Cancer Now, added: “This is a remarkable and extremely promising result, but we need to see this effect repeated in other patients before giving hope of a new immunotherapy for incurable metastatic breast cancer. If we are to finally stop women dying, we urgently need to find new ways to target and stop the spread of the disease.”