Doctors at the National Institutes of Health say they’ve apparently completely eradicated cancer from a patient who had untreatable, advanced breast cancer.
The case is raising hopes about a new way to harness the immune system to fight some of the most common cancers. The methods and the patient’s experience are described Monday in a paper published in the journal Nature Medicine.
“We’re looking for a treatment — an immunotherapy — that can be broadly used in patients with common cancers,” says Dr. Steven Rosenberg, an oncologist and immunologist at the National Cancer Institute, who has been developing the approach.
Rosenberg’s team painstakingly analyzes the DNA in a sample of each patient’s cancer for mutations specific to their malignancies. Next, scientists sift through tumor tissue for immune system cells known as T cells that appear programmed to home in on those mutations.
Related content from NPR:
But Rosenberg and others caution that the approach doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, it failed for two other breast cancer patients. Many more patients will have to be treated — and followed for much longer — to fully evaluate the treatment’s effectiveness, the scientists say.
Still, the treatment has helped seven of 45 patients with a variety of cancers, Rosenberg says. That’s a response rate of about 15 percent, and included patients with advanced cases of colon cancer, liver cancer and cervical cancer.