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Experimental Therapy Beats Back One Patient's Melanoma
Date:6/18/2008

Doctors used man's own immune system cells to eliminate the disease

WEDNESDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- Patient "Number Four," taking part in an experimental melanoma treatment program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, was a very lucky man.

After receiving an infusion of his own, fortified immune system T cells, the man's melanoma, which had already spread to a lung and to a lymph node in his groin and had not responded to other therapies, went into complete remission.

Researchers reporting in the June 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine say this is the first time a patient's cloned T cells used alone have put an advanced solid-tumor cancer into complete remission.

The man was followed for two years, at which time he was still in remission. Doctors lost track of him after that.

"No way would we say this is a cure but he had a complete response and, fortunately, for him, it lasted longer than just a few months or weeks," said study senior author Dr. Cassian Yee, an associate member at Hutchinson's clinical research division.

"I don't think this represents any standard of care, but I view it as shining a light on the direction in which we perhaps should be heading," said Dr. Louis M. Weiner, director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. "It's giving us some insights into what the necessary conditions are for an anti-cancer immune response to be effective."

Immunotherapy, which engages a patient's own immune system to fight cancer, is an emerging art and science. The method holds the promise of being much less toxic than other treatments, though recent research has pointed out that it may not be as safe as once hoped.

Research shows several instances when a patient's own immune system kicked in to oust a cancer even without help from sophisticated new technologies. Dr. Vijay
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