‘Remarkable’ therapy beats terminal breast cancer

6 June 2018
BBC Health

The life of a woman with terminal breast cancer has been saved by a pioneering new therapy, say US researchers.

It involved pumping 90 billion cancer-killing cells into her body.

Judy Perkins had been given three months to live, but two years later there is no sign of cancer in her body.

The team at the US National Cancer Institute says the therapy is still experimental, but could transform the treatment of all cancers.

Judy – who lives in Florida – had spreading, advanced breast cancer that could not be treated with conventional therapy. She had a tennis ball-sized tumours in her liver and secondary cancers throughout her body.

She told the BBC: “About a week after [the therapy] I started to feel something, I had a tumour in my chest that I could feel shrinking.

“It took another week or two for it to completely go away.”

She remembers her first scan after the procedure when the medical staff “were all very excited and jumping around”. It was then she was told that she was likely to be cured. Now she’s filling her life with backpacking and sea kayaking and has just taken five weeks circumnavigating Florida.

The technology is a “living drug” made from a patient’s own cells at one of the world’s leading centres of cancer research. Dr Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute, told the BBC: “We’re talking about the most highly personalised treatment imaginable.”

It remains experimental and still requires considerably more testing before it can be used more widely, but this is how it works: it starts by getting to know the enemy.

A patient’s tumour is genetically analysed to identify the rare changes that might make the cancer visible to the immune system.

Out of the 62 genetic abnormalities in this patient, only four were potential lines of attack.

Next researchers go hunting. A patient’s white blood cells and extract those capable of attacking the cancer.

These are then grown in huge quantities in the laboratory.
Around 90 billion were injected back into the 49-year-old patient, alongside drugs to take the brakes off the immune system.

 

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