Doctors could be a step closer to a cure for cancer, after a woman with advanced breast cancer was completely free of the disease less than a year after trialling a type of immunotherapy.
The cancer, which had spread around 49-year-old Judy Perkins’ body, was successfully treated with a unique form of immunotherapy that used Perkins’ own immune cells to destroy the cancer cells. Women with this advanced form of cancer aren’t usually given long to live, which is what makes the research published by the National Cancer Institute in America on Perkins’ case so ground breaking.
The patient, an engineer from Florida in the United States, opted for the radical new therapy after other treatments including standard chemotherapy were unsuccessful. Under routine chemo, doctors weren’t able to prevent the tumour in Perkins’ right breast from growing and spreading to other organs. In total, seven different types of chemotherapy were used in Perkins’ treatment and failed, and doctors said she had a life expectancy of a few months.
However, Perkins was given access to an immunotherapy trial and the treatment was so effective that she’s now been cancer-free for two years. Doctors hope that similar techniques could be used to treat a variety of different cancers in other patients.
“We’ve developed a high-throughput method to identify mutations present in a cancer that are recognized by the immune system,” clinical trial leader clinical Dr Steven A. Rosenberg said in a statement. “This research is experimental right now. But because this new approach to immunotherapy is dependent on mutations, not on cancer type, it is in a sense a blueprint we can use for the treatment of many types of cancer.”
His excitement was echoed by Tom Misteli, director of cancer research at the US National Cancer Institute.
“This is an illustrative case report that highlights, once again, the power of immunotherapy,” he said in a statement. “If confirmed in a larger study, it promises to further extend the reach of this T-cell therapy to a broader spectrum of cancers.”
Perkins was one of the first people in the world to receive the treatment and it hoped that after more successful trials, the option will be available to other cancer patients within five years.
For the treatment, doctors cut small tissues from Perkins’ tumours to figure out the mutations specific to her cancer. Next, they analused immune cells that target tumours, which are the body’s way of killing cancer. These cells were then extracted from Perkins’ body.
Researchers were able to grow billions of the cells in a labm then injected 80 billion of the most effective cells back into Perkins’ body. Along with a drug called Pembrolizumab (which helps the immune system fight cancer), Perkins was cleared of her cancer after 42 weeks. Doctors have not been able to detect cancer cells in her body since.
It’s not the first time breast cancer research has made headlines this week. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found women with early-stages of the disease can actually forego chemo with no risk to the health later in life.
In Australia in 2017, there were 17,730 new cases of breast cancer ,while the number sat at 252,710 in the United States.