Imagine fighting cervical cancer by harvesting immune cells from a patient's tumor, growing the cells in a lab and then infusing them back into the patient. Guess what, there’s no need to imagine this.
Reuters reported that this new type of personalized immune therapy, called adoptive T cell therapy, is taking place. The therapy has showed dramatic results in a small, government-led trial in women with advanced cervical cancer.
The National Cancer Institute conducted this pilot study where doctors had their first success using immune therapy against cervical cancer, a disease caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Their findings were recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
In this early-stage trial, researchers studied nine women with metastatic cervical cancer caused by HPV, for which there are currently few treatment options.
USA Today explained that with adoptive T cell therapy, doctors harvest immune cells that naturally fight a patient's cancer, increase the number in the lab, and then put them back in the body. T cells are infection-fighting white blood cells that recognize and attack harmful invaders such as viruses and cancer.
For the study, researchers essentially beefed up the patients' own weak immune responses to the cancer by removing T cells from their tumors that recognize two HPV-related proteins known as E6 and E7. The team then grew batches of these HPV-targeting immune cells and returned them to the patients to fight the cancer.
Of the nine women tested, three responded. One had a partial response in which the tumor shrank by nearly 40 percent, a response that lasted for three months. Two patients had complete remission of their cancers that so far has lasted 15 months in one patient and 22 months in the other.
The other six women did not respond to treatment and researchers are attempting to determine why.
There are potential problems that can arise with the treatment. Tinkering with the immune system through adoptive T cell therapy caused some serious side effects, including low blood counts and infections.