Beating cancer—with your own cells
By Justin Matlick, Hutchinson Center science writer
Writing about cancer is a humbling enterprise. The disease takes a brutal toll and many cancer stories don’t have a happy ending. That’s particularly true when the disease reaches stage four, indicating that cancer has metastasized and spread in a way that often leaves patients little hope. Which makes the stories of two men with stage four melanoma especially remarkable.
These men came to the Hutchinson Center under the darkest of clouds, to undergo a treatment called adoptive immunotherapy. Dr. Cassian Yee extracted infection-fighting T-cells from the men, isolated cells that fought back against cancer, and then injected large numbers of those cells back into the patients.
The results were stunning: both men went into long-term remission.
To be sure, there’s a long way to go before this approach becomes a standard therapy—one which doesn’t carry the adverse side effects of chemotherapy or radiation—and generates the same results in large numbers of people. So our researchers are working hard to perfect it, and to make similar advances in other types of immunotherapy.
This CITN’s mission is to conduct early-phase trials of immunotherapy agents, with the goal of accelerating the development of compounds that have already been discovered but are not yet widely available.
The network will be powered by researchers nationwide. This month, we announced the 27 different investigators and institutions that will perform this critical work. The list includes our own Dr. John Thompson, as well as researchers at institutions such as Yale University, the University of Chicago, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.
By sharing information and conducting trials together, instead of working alone, these researchers will be better able to overcome the hurdles that remain to immunotherapy’s widespread use. And, with time, stories that start with the term “stage four” may take on an entirely new meaning.