What did the media report?
The media reported that scientists had cured advanced skin cancer for the first time using a patient’s own cells that had been cloned outside the body
What did the research show?
US researchers cloned CD4+ T-cells, a type of white blood cell, taken from a 52-year-old man with advanced melanoma. They then ‘expanded’ those cells that had a melanoma-specific antigen and gave the patient a massive dose of five billion of these cloned NY-ESO-1 cells. The cells stayed in the patient’s body for at least 80 days.
Even though only 50-75% of the patient’s tumour cells were responsive to NY-ESO-1, the entire tumour started to regress after the cell infusion, the researchers said. The patient remained disease free two years later, the last time he was checked.
What did the researchers say?
Dr Cassian Yee, an immunologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, said: ‘We were surprised by the anti-tumor effect of these CD4 T cells and its duration of response. For this patient we were successful, but we would need to confirm the effectiveness of therapy in a larger study.’
He admitted that the study was based on only one patient with a specific type of immune system whose tumour cells expressed a specific antigen. But he added that if larger trials proved successful such immunotherapy could be used for the 25% of all late-stage melanoma patients with the same type of immune system and tumour antigen.
What does this mean for nursing practice?
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: ‘This is another interesting demonstration of the huge power of the immune system to fight some types of cancer. Although the technique is complex and difficult to use for all but a few patients, the principle that someone’s own immune cells can be expanded and made to work in this way is very encouraging.’
But Ed Yong, health information manager at the charity, added: ‘This treatment will need to be tested in large clinical trials to work out how widely it could be used.’
New England Journal of Medicine (2008) 358: 2698-2703