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Trial fits attack on melanoma to a T

Annual Report - Winter 2014

By Scott Merville

By boosting the number of T cells in his patients, Patrick Hwu is watching their immune systems defeat cancer.

Cancer suppresses or evades immune system responses to survive, but some T cells manage to find and penetrate it anyway. There just aren’t enough of them to finish the job.

What if you could collect a patient’s tenacious T cells — white blood cells customized to find and kill a given infection or a type of abnormal cell — multiply them in the lab, then infuse them back into patients by the billions?

Photographer: John Everett

Patrick Hwu, M.D., chair of Melanoma Medical Oncology, leads a clinical trial using this approach for patients whose melanoma has spread to other organs.

“We’ve had durable responses, including complete responses, in about half of patients with metastatic melanoma, an impressive result for this group of patients,” Hwu says.

In the first part of the clinical trial, patients received infusions of their tumor-infiltrating T cells after receiving high-dose interleukin-2, an immune-system signaling molecule that stimulates T cell activity. Hwu and colleagues reported that 15 of 31 patients had an objective — or measurable — response to therapy.

Patients participating in a new arm of the clinical trial also receive an infusion of their own, expanded dendritic cells. These cells present T cells with antigens, which they recognize and attack.
“We’re working continually to improve this approach by making it more efficient, effective and available to more patients,” Hwu says.

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