An experimental cure for terminal cancer
A Florida woman with advanced breast cancer who was given just three months to live is now free of the disease, thanks to an experimental therapy that used her own immune cells to eradicate the tumors. Three years ago, Judy Perkins had exhausted her treatment options—despite a mastectomy, hormonal therapy, and chemotherapy, the cancer had spread from her breast to her chest and liver. In a last-ditch effort to save her life, the then-49-year-old enrolled in a clinical trial led by Dr. Steven Rosenberg at the National Cancer Institute. His team took samples of her cancer cells and then collected tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), immune system cells that had attached to the tumors. After identifying the genetic mutations that allowed the tumor cells to spread rapidly throughout her body, the scientists found the specific TILs that latched on to those mutations most effectively. They grew tens of billions of those immune cells in the lab and then injected them into her bloodstream. Five months later, her scans were clear. “I hit the jackpot,” Perkins tells NBCNews.com. She was lucky—this individually tailored form of treatment has helped only 15 percent of the patients who have tried it. But with further developments, scientists say, this new approach could revolutionize treatment for other solid tumors, including those in the lungs and colon, which account for most cancer deaths.