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Scientists Use Woman’s Cells to Fight her own Aggressive Tumors

Update Date: May 09, 2014 03:02 PM EDT

A new form of immunotherapy could change how doctors treat patients with aggressive cancers. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute were able to take a female cancer patient's cells from her immune system and use them to attack the malignant cells in her body.

For this study, the researchers analyzed the genome of 45-year-old Melinda Bachini who has an aggressive and advanced type of cancer called cholangiocarcinoma that had already spread from her bile duct and into her liver and lungs. She was diagnosed around four years ago and went through three courses of chemotherapy treatments. After the treatments failed to prevent the cancer cells from moving throughout her body, she decided to stop the treatments roughly two years ago.

"I knew if I was going to beat this, it would have to be with an experimental therapy," said Bachini, who is a mother of six from Montana.

Bachini then researched experimental treatments and was accepted to join a trial in March 2012. The trial's goal was to use people's own immune system T-cells to attack the cancer. The research team, headed by senior author, Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg who is the chief of the surgery branch at the cancer institute, sequenced the genome of Bachini's cancer.

The team first analyzed the T-cells from tumors that were located in her lungs. They found that these T-cells reacted to a particular mutated protein present in her cancer. The team then mass produced these T-cells within the laboratory setting and injected Bachini with over 42 billion of them. Out of this large amount, only around 25 percent of them reacted to the tumor. This small percentage was capable of stopping the progression of the cancer in her liver and lungs for one year. The team recently gave Bachini a second round of treatments roughly six months ago, which has so far been starting shrinking the tumors.

"It's still highly experimental," cautioned Dr. Rosenberg, reported by WebMD. "This will be challenging to implement in the real world. But it's doable."

The study, "Cancer Immunotherapy Based on Mutation-Specific CD4+ T Cells in a Patient with Epithelial Cancer," was published in the journal Science.

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