A study published this week on Science proves that the genetic alterations of malignant tumors can be used in some cases to shrink them. The article describes the treatment of a woman with an advanced and deadly type of cancer.
The woman,Ms. Bachini, discovered in 2009 that she had bile-duct cancer (or cholangiocarcinoma), and, by then, it had already spread to her liver. About two-thirds of her liver was removed by surgery, but the disease had turned up in her lungs, and her tumors were growing, despite chemotherapy.
She decided to contact Dr. Rosenberg, who was studying about T cells (a type of lymphocyte that play a central role in cell-mediated immunity) and she started the new treatment in March 2012, when some researchers identified cells from her immune system that attacked a specific mutation in the malignant cells. Rosenberg’s team removed the tumors from her lungs so they could extract tumor-infiltrating T cells, which were cultured in a lab. Then, Ms. Bachini was given chemotherapy to wipe out her immune system, so doctors could infused her 42.4 billion T cells through an intravenous line. She also had four doses of IL-2 (a drug that helps to activate T cells). The woman was really weak but in late April 2012 she recovered her strength.
She went once a month to the National Cancer Institute for checkups until last summer, when, more than a year after the therapy, the lung tumors started to grow again. By then, the team had sequenced her cancer’s genome and done studies on her immune system. They had also found a mutation in the cancer that was unique to it and cannot be found in normal cells. They also had made some test that proved that only one (the TH1) of the five cultures that were given to Ms. Bachini could attack the mutation.
The team cultured Ms. Bachini’s T cells, but, this time, they used only the ones that would go after the mutation. The patient was given chemotherapy again before receiving 126 billion T cells in conjuction with another four doses of IL-2. As a result, her tumors quickly began shrinking and have continued doing so for the last months.
As I see it, a study made with only one patient is not very reliable, but if scientists can prove that it works with all people in common tumors like those in the digestive tract, lungs, breasts… it would be a great progress in the fight against cancer. We should keep investigating because it is the leading cause of death in the developed world (the second in the developing world) so everything that can help to fight it could be very important, because it could save many lives.
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Science