June 4, 2014 — A new form of cancer treatment that uses patients' own immune systems to fight tumors has brought two advanced cervical cancer patients into complete remission, according to a small clinical trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute, Reuters/Chicago Tribune reports.
NCI researchers conducted an early-stage trial of the treatment among nine women who had metastatic cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus. The approach uses patients' T-cells -- white blood cells that fend off infection and attack viruses -- to fight cancer cells.
For the trial, the researchers removed T-cells that recognize two HPV-related proteins, called E6 and E7, from patients' tumors. They cultivated batches of these T-cells and then reintroduced them into the patients' bodies (Steenhuysen, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 6/2). The researchers also gave the women drugs designed to boost their immune response.
The treatment eradicated the cancer in two patients, including one who has been in remission for 17 months and one who has been in remission for 15 months. Christian Hinrichs, an NCI researcher who led the trials, noted that there is "no way to know" if the results will be permanent (Marchione, AP/Miami Herald, 6/2).
One other patient in the trial showed a response to the treatment, with her tumor decreasing by almost 40%, an effect that lasted for three months (Chicago Tribune, 6/2). None of the other women responded to the treatment, and researchers are investigating why (AP/Miami Herald, 6/2).
Researchers are now preparing to expand the trial to 35 women with cervical cancer (Chicago Tribune, 6/2).
In addition, they are testing the treatment on other HPV-caused cancers, such as throat and anal cancer, and think it may be effective against cancers linked to other viruses (AP/Miami Herald, 6/2).