“Extraordinary results” in cancer treatment brings hope 31



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Exciting prospects for some advanced cancer patients have been declared this week after scientists successfully engineered immune cells so they can target a specific type of blood cancer during the first round of clinical trials. The study, which was presented at the annual conference for the American Association for the Advancement for Science (AAAS), showed enormous success among several dozen patients who would typically have only had months to live. Their early experimental trials that used the immune system’s T-cells to target cancers had “extraordinary results”. Patients with blood cancers of various types showed response rates of greater than 80% with more than half now enjoying complete remission, and in one study among sufferers of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia 94% saw symptoms disappear completely.

Researcher Stanley Riddell said, “this is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients”.

To administer the T-cell therapy, doctors remove immune cells from patients, tagging them with “receptor” molecules that target a specific cancer, as other T-cells target the flu or infections. They then infuse the cells back in the body.

“There are reasons to be optimistic, there are reasons to be pessimistic,” said Riddell, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington state.

“These are in patients that have failed everything. Most of the patients in our trial would be projected to have two to five months to live.”

Another researcher on the program, Chiara Bonini, a haematologist with San Raffaele University in Milan said,  “this is really a revolution”.

“T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives.”

Tests for this kind of treatment and scientific outcome has at this time been limited to only certain blood cancers.  The research team were clear on the fact that they needed to work on tumours and track how long patients would remain in remission.

This type of therapy, T Cell therapy is recognised as a last choice for most, and in this case it came after the failing of chemotherapy for all of the programs’ participants.  And the good news is that scientists hope the modified cells that remain in your body will carry long term benefits in the fight against cancer internally, retaining their memory from years or even decades earlier to kill it in future years if it is to arise again.

“Much like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it’s not going to be a save-all,” Riddell said of the new therapy, adding: “I think immunotherapy has finally made it to a pillar of cancer therapy.”

Have you known someone who might have benefited from this breakthrough in cancer treatment?

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. If this works it would be absolutely brilliant, my son is in cancer research in the UK I will ask him about it, but knowing him the explanation will go right over my head, but wow.

  2. My husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. No time for chemo, he passed away 8 weeks later!

    1 REPLY
    • My daughter passed away with Pancreatic cancer last October. It took so long to diagnose, even with her being in agonising pain and drastic weight loss, that by the time they found out what it was, it was too late. She died 5 weeks later.

  3. There are so many different types of cancer & improvements in treatment have increased enormously over the last few decades, with improved cure rates 70% higher; it’s very encouraging to see what’s happening

  4. My husband has Sarcomatoid Carcinoma. He is on a trial drug . Has an infusion every 2 weeks. Has reduced a tumour so we have more time. Needs to watch left kidney now. Hard times. Not what we expected when we were getting ready to travel.

    4 REPLY
    • Do have a positive attitude that all will work for him. My husband has responded to the treatment & I never thought it would be otherwise. I always ask after each fortnight how it went but normally we go about every day to day activities without mention of the elephant in the room. He’s 81 but mows the lawn & gardens . AND WE LAUGH !!!!

  5. My brother has been diagnosed with old age leukemia. I hope this works, he’s not doing all that well

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