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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Good News On The Cancer Front

Although it's not my usual choice of topics, this caught my eye from the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute has apparently figured out how to genetically alter a patient's own T-cells so that they attack cancer cells:

For the first time in the history of cancer treatment, gene therapy has apparently succeeded in shrinking and even eradicating large, metastatic tumors.

The therapy worked in only two of 17 patients who were treated. But many researchers are hailing the study, which was published yesterday in the online edition of Science, as groundbreaking because it provides compelling evidence in human patients that gene therapy can be effective against one of the toughest challenges in medicine: terminal cancer.

Moreover, the technique used in this pilot study -- genetically altering immune-system cells so that they target tumors -- could eventually be used against many different kinds of cancers, not just the cancer that afflicted patients in this trial, which was melanoma.

Read the whole thing here (note: online subscription required).

While it's only a first step, it's still pretty exciting. There are quite a few cancers that are extremely resistant to traditional therapies (including the Unknown Son's Neuroblastoma, although he's currently in remission). While there are some researchers that are working with antibody therapy (like those at Memorial Sloan Kettering), the therapies have been effective only in some cases. Likewise, Dr. Rosenberg's results were pretty weak (only 2 out of 17 patients). But it's still encouraging.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled commentary.

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