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Medicine Biotech

Researchers Successfully Fight Colon Cancer Using Immunotherapy (nytimes.com) 40

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes the New York Times: The remarkable recovery of a woman with advanced colon cancer, after treatment with cells from her own immune system, may lead to new options for thousands of other patients with colon or pancreatic cancer, researchers are reporting. (Shorter non-paywalled version of the article here). Her treatment was the first to successfully target a common cancer mutation that scientists have tried to attack for decades... so resistant to every attempt at treatment that scientists have described it as "undruggable"... The researchers analyze tumors for mutations -- genetic flaws that set the cancer cells apart from normal ones. They also study tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, looking for immune cells that can recognize mutations and therefore attack cancerous cells but leave healthy ones alone.
The patient, a 50-year-old database programmer in Michigan, is now cancer-free, according to the article. "Researchers twice denied her request to enter the clinical trial, saying her tumors were not large enough, she said. But she refused to give up and was finally let in."

The treatment ultimately eliminated six of her seven tumors, and because it targeted a cell mutation that's common in colon cancer patients, "Researchers say they now have a blueprint that may enable them to develop cell treatments for other patients as well."
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Researchers Successfully Fight Colon Cancer Using Immunotherapy

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    My dad just died of colon cancer back in September. This news makes me both happy and sad at the same time.

    • by Xian97 ( 714198 )

      I am sorry for your father. We just lost my neighbor and my wife's best friend last week to colon cancer. It hit us pretty hard. Everyone I had ever lost was sudden, here one minute, gone the next, from a heart attack, car accident, or such. Watching the slow, lingering, wasting away to nothing death was one of the hardest things I have ever went through. Cancer sucks, I hope this treatment proves beneficial so others do not have to go through what she did.

    • My sympathies and I feel exactly the same. My Dad died of colon cancer back in 2012.

      Side Note: Hope you're getting regular colonoscopies (?spelling). With my family history I get them every 3 years. 4 Polyps removed so far. If caught early, colon cancer is very treatable, even preventable.

  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @11:51AM (#53463169)

    I can't understand why clinical trials reject people who aren't in bad enough condition. What if the treatment only works before the disease gets really bad? Wouldn't you want to know this?

    • You would also think that clinical trials would be eager for successful results, thus more interested in candidates that are not as far gone.

      We were able to get my mother into one of these after she performed suitably poorly during testing.

      The thing is, a great number of side effects and adverse reactions are uncovered during human trials, and medical researchers prefer to reserve the high risk, experimental treatments for those without other, proven medical recourse.

    • with Big Pharma. It doesn't matter if they work or have terrible side effects because you're going to die soon anyway. Also you'll pay just about anything for a shot at life. Those things combined make them highly profitable. On the flip side some very promising treatment options for kids with Leukemia have to funded in Europe because keeping kids alive for the next 50 years of their lives can't measure up.
    • by bazorg ( 911295 )

      Sometimes the guys at Science Based Medicine blog about this subject. In general those guys object to "right to try" because:
      a) patients who are desperate enough to try *anything* are potential victims for quacks to sell stuff under the guise of "clinical trials" (the results of those trials never being published is a good clue as to whether the trial was genuine in the first place)
      b) pharmaceutical companies could use "exceptionally urgent trials" as a conduit to get products to the market earlier than nor

      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        Unfortunately the 21st Century Cures Act will encourage the FDA to approve treatments based not on randomized, controlled trials, but on weaker evidence, such as observational studies, case studies, anecdotes, and testimony by patient groups financed by the drug companies.

        Here's an article that rounds up some of the other articles about it. http://www.healthnewsreview.or... [healthnewsreview.org]

        Sometimes you read a medical case history and the doctor says, "There are no randomized, controlled trials to demonstrate effectiveness,

      • Except that (a) right-to-try laws don't apply to quack medications. They just give terminal patients early access to compounds that are already in the FDA pipeline and which have passed Stage I toxicity. As for point (b) I suppose so, and more power to pharma on this point. We need to take a little more risk if we want to bring new cures to market faster.

        It's called the Evidence Based Medicine movement, but what it really promotes is taking MDs out of the loop in medical decision making and replacing their

    • by mlyle ( 148697 )

      > I can't understand why clinical trials reject people who aren't in bad enough condition. What if the treatment only works before the disease gets really bad? Wouldn't you want to know this?

      A key reason is that there are already pretty good treatments for stage 1 or stage 2 colon cancer that significantly drop 5 year mortality. So the potential for doing more harm (by doing this instead of other treatments) or confusing the results and potentially creating harm (by offering this with existing treatment

      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        Particularly in colon cancer.

        Colon cancer is curable with surgery in the early stages, but uncurable by anything after it metastasizes.

        After metastases, they're trying to extend life for another 5 or 10 years.

        • by mlyle ( 148697 )

          > Colon cancer is curable with surgery in the early stages, but uncurable by anything after it metastasizes.

          Just a curious aside-- the survival / staging thing is probably somewhat misleading.

          Some fraction of cancers are probably incapable of establishing themselves in other tissue; and aggressively-growing cancers tend to get diagnosed later in phase of disease progression. So in other words, there's a selection bias where the inherently nastier cancers show up with a worse staging.

          A lot of attempts to

          • by nbauman ( 624611 )

            You're basically right. I picked colon cancer because that is the one major cancer in which screening really can result in a cure.

            The way I learned it, the cancers appear in the inner layer of the colon, and they progress to the outer layers and finally the surrounding tissue. Doctors can screen for them with colonoscopy, and the initial cancer can be removed, sometimes directly during the colonoscopy, and sometimes in a separate operation which might remove more of the colon. Once it spreads outside the co

      • Okay, cancer is one thing but from my own perspective watching my parents deal with wet age-related macular degeneration, the ophthalmologist they see is THE top guy in the field. His practice conducts research studies all the time. In one instance, it wasn't a case of whether or not they might get a placebo. They were guaranteed to get at least the current method of treatment but they could be getting the new drug. They said, "Oh, you don't qualify because your vision is too good." Well, it will likel

        • by mlyle ( 148697 )

          If the new drug is very possibly much worse than the current treatment, it's still a bit of an ethical conundrum.

    • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday December 11, 2016 @01:34PM (#53463705) Homepage Journal

      In this case, they were surgically removing large tumors that were infiltrated with T cells.

      The T cells normally attack cancer cells, but they couldn't do it because the cancer cells had established a defense mechanism.

      They were trying to overcome the death mechanism and train the T cells to attack the cancer.

      For that they needed big tumors with a lot of T cells.

      At first, they did a biopsy of her tumors to see whether she had enough T cells to make the treatment work. She didn't have enough T cells. If they had tried it, even if their theory was correct, the treatment would have failed.

      Then her x-rays showed that her tumor had grown, so her doctor sent them in to the researchers. They did another biopsy, and she had a lot of T cells infiltrating the tumor -- enough to make the treatment work. That's why they accepted her in the trial.

      I'm writing this from memory. I read the paper and a few articles about it, but I'm not going to read it again.

    • As others have said, part of the reason is that it's considered abusive to risk the life of a patient on an experiment when there are tested therapies that give them a good chance. There are other reasons though too. In the case of T-Cell therapy, sometimes they need sufficient tumor mass to perform the T-Cell harvest. Also if the disease is small, it can be hard to determine meaningful endpoints (i.e. big tumor gets tiny = significant result whereas tiny tumor gets a bit tinier = fuzzy interpretation of t

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