According to a recent article published in the journal Science and a recent publication issued by the National Cancer Institute, a novel immune therapy approach referred to as “adoptive transfer” appears to be beneficial and may improve survival in patients with metastatic melanoma who have stopped responding to standard therapies.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that often starts in the form of a mole. Although melanoma is very curable in its earliest stages prior to its spread, advanced-stage melanoma is considered difficult to cure. Metastatic melanoma refers to cancer that has spread to several and/or distant sites in the body, with long-term survival rates remaining dismal.
Melanoma is one type of cancer that has demonstrated anti-cancer responses to immune therapy, or therapy that stimulates the immune system to attack the cancer. Researchers have been evaluating ways in which to improve upon immune therapy in the treatment of melanoma. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is an agent that stimulates immune cells and is normally produced in the body. IL-2 is often used as part of a treatment regimen for melanoma.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate a novel approach of immune therapy in patients with metastatic melanoma. This trial involved 13 patients whose cancer had stopped responding to standard therapies. The process involved the removal of some of the patient’s cancer cells, as well as some of the patient’s T-cells (a specific type of immune cell), which were mixed together in a laboratory. Researchers isolated specific parts of the cancer cells that would stimulate the T-cells to recognize them as “foreign” and initiate an immune attack against the cancer cells specific to the patient. The T-cells were multiplied to nearly 80 billion and then re-infused into the patient. Patients then received IL-2 to continue the stimulation of T-cell growth within their body. Prior to infusion of the T-cells, patients were first treated with chemotherapy consisting of Fludara® (fludarabine) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®) to reduce the level of immune cells in their body that were not providing an adequate immune response against the cancer.
Approximately 77% of patients achieved an anti-cancer response to therapy. Six patients achieved at least a 50% reduction in their cancer growths with no new appearances of cancer and four patients had some cancer growths disappear. At the time of publication of this data, 10 patients were still alive; three were cancer-free, one was considered to be 99% cancer-free and two others sustained substantial regression. Side effects were reported to be mild and easily managed.
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These researchers are hopeful that adoptive transfer, although still an experimental approach, may someday provide effective treatment for metastatic melanoma as well as other cancers. The results from this small clinical trial appear to indicate that adoptive transfer may provide significant anti-cancer activity and extend survival in metastatic melanoma, a disease that has been considered incurable. Future clinical trials will undoubtedly be conducted to further evaluate this type of therapy. Patients with metastatic melanoma may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of participation in a clinical trial further evaluating adoptive transfer or other promising therapeutic approaches. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and www.eCancerTrials.com eCancerTrials.com also provides personalized clinical trial searches on behalf of patients.
Dudley M, Wunderlich J, Robbins P, et al. Cancer regression and autoimmunity in patients after clonal repopulation with antitumor lymphocytes.
Science Express. Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/sciencexpress/recent.shtml. Accessed September 20, 2002.
National Cancer Institute. Available at: http://newscenter.cancer.gov/pressreleases/melanomavaccine.html. Accessed September 20, 2002.
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