MONDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Two new studies report some success in treating a particularly stubborn form of cancer: melanoma, a deadly malignancy that first appears in the skin before frequently spreading to other parts of the body.
The first study, appearing in the Jan. 31 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, used genetically engineered immune cells from the patient to fight off the cancer cells.
The second study, appearing in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, targeted a subgroup of cancer cells thought to be primarily responsible for metastasis -- the spread of cancer.
The technique used in the first study, which included 17 patients, is called "adoptive immunotherapy."
Basic immunotherapy involves "removing [immune] cells from the patients, growing them to large numbers, then giving them back," explained study senior author Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
The researchers went one step further by modifying the cells to recognize and bind to a specific protein on cancer cells, NY-ESO-1.
"We genetically engineered them to recognize the cancer," said Rosenberg. "Basically we created a new drug for every patient, using their own cells to treat them."
Forty-five percent of melanoma patients in the study responded to the therapy, as did about two-thirds of patients with a rare soft-tissue cancer known as synovial cell sarcoma, which attacks muscle, fat, blood tissue and tissue lining the joints. Two of the 11 melanoma patients saw their cancer disappear for more than a year.
The synovial cell sarcoma findings were significant, said Rosenberg, because "this is the first time we've [successfully] used gene therapy for a solid cancer other than melanoma."
Also, the NY-ESO-1 antigen is found in many other cancers, including breast, p
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