Future cancer breakthrough could cut need for chemo for some patients

Although T-Cell therapy can be life-saving, it requires the patient's immune system to be destroyed with chemotherapy or radiation. A new discovery could change that for future cancer patients.

For certain cancer patients, a treatment called T-cell therapy can be life-saving. But a big downside to this method is that the patient’s entire immune system must first be destroyed with chemo or radiation, which can also cause serious side effects.

“I lost all of my hair. I lost my eyelashes. I lost my eyebrows. I didn’t tolerate food for a while. I ran fevers. I had bone pain,” breast cancer patient Jenifer Briley said.

Now, a new discovery in mice could change that for people in the future.

Researchers are studying a new method that could eliminate the need for chemo and radiation before having T-cell therapy. With this approach, doctors collect a patient’s own immune cells, grow and enhance them in a lab, and then inject them back. Normally, patients need to receive chemo and radiation to wipe out their immune system before T-cell therapy, but that could change down the road.

“Immunotherapy has been the holy grail really of cancer therapy because we know the immune system is able to kill cancer cells. You reset the immune system and it continues to work,” said Dr. Andre Goy of Hackensack University Medical Center.

Now, a research team led by UCLA in collaboration with scientists from Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania discovered engineering T-cells with a lab-made receptor called i-l-9 allows the cancer-fighting cells to do their work without the need for chemo or radiation.

In one model involving mice, the researchers cured more than half of the animals that were treated with the synthetic i-l-9 receptor T-cells. This breakthrough could one day allow doctors to treat more cancer patients with T-cell therapy and fewer side effects.

T-cell therapy may be an option for different types of cancer, but it’s more commonly used in people with blood cancers. It’s also being looked at for melanoma, cervical squamous cell carcinoma, bile duct cancer, and other types.