Some good news on The War on Cancer

No doubt about it: cancer is scary and it “sucks,” as the kids say.  As we age and start to peer ahead at our approaching demographics, the statistical odds aren’t quite as rosy as they were, say, 15 years ago.   And, the American Cancer Society projects that 1,437,180 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed here in the United States this year alone.

But, far be it from the Science Cheerleader to put a downer on your day. I come to you with some promising news!

Scientific American reports that researchers are excited about the potential of so-called anti-cancer vaccines that work by pumping a patient full of the same protein or antigen that is on the surface of tumor cells. Researchers believe that if the body contains enough of the protein, the immune system will recognize it as a potential danger and send out armies of disease-killing cells to seek and destroy tumors harboring it.  (Some scientists are using tobacco plants as manufacturing facilities to make protein to combat cancer.)

SciAm also reports on findings published in  New England Journal of Medicine that scientists removed so-called CD4+ T cells (a type of infection-fighting white blood cell) from a 52-year-old man with stage IV (the most advanced)melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer; it had spread to a lung and a groin lymph node. The researchers grew T cells (that target a specific protein, or antigen, on the tumor cells) in the lab until they had a population they believed was large enough to destroy the cancer.

The news piece goes on to report that they infused five billion of the cloned cells into the patient. Two months later, PET (positron emission tomography) and CT (computed tomography) scans did not reveal any tumors—and the patient has remained disease-free for two years, Yee says. They infused five billion of the cloned cells into the patient. Two months later, PET (positron emission tomography) and CT (computed tomography) scans did not reveal any tumors—and the patient has remained disease-free for two years.

“This is the first example that I can think of where someone actually grew CD4+ T cells outside the body and gave [them] back and got results,” says Willem Overwijk, an immunologist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who was not involved in this study.

Score one for science!