The secret to fighting cancers, as well as autoimmune disorders such as MS, ALS and rheumatoid arthritis, lie within each of us in our immune systems. Now this potential is being unlocked in an increasing number of patients. For cancer, the treatment involves removing immune system cells from our body, treating them to recognize the tumor, multiplying them, and then returning them to the body to seek and destroy the cancer cells. Recent articles in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere have described how the National Cancer Institute’s Dr Steven Rosenberger Institute has treated a patient with metastatic breast cancer that had resisted all other treatments , and was expected to be fatal, who is now cancer free for more than a year after this treatment.
And there are other benefits of immune therapy. Even when surgery and chemotherapy or hormone therapy are successful they have often had serious side effects on healthy tissue. Immunotherapy treatments, in contrast, target only the abnormal cancer cells and are inherently less destructive. And while traditional treatment relies on expensive pharmaceuticals, immunotherapy will eventually result in treatment whose costs are modest.
This patient is from Florida, but was treated in Bethesda, Maryland after learning of the treatment. You can read here how she became her own advocate and sought out other treatment that might help her, and discovered the clinical trial. Such trials exist for many other tumors, but are unknown to many. Thus even patients whose prognosis is currently bleak, may have hope in the near future as this technology is improved.
The expanding use of immune system treatments for a wide variety of medical disorders represents the greatest breakthrough in medicine that I have seen since I first became involved in medicine as a medical student at Johns Hopkins forty years ago. Even our own work with platelet rich plasma and mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of arthritis and sports injuries is immune system based, a so called immunomodulatory treatment.
But the developing promise of immunotherapy to treat and even “cure” cancer represents truly life- saving technology that it behooves us all to be aware of, and to help spread this awareness to those who might need it most.