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In a new study recently published in PNAS, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center describe their approach to cancer immunotherapy, involving selecting and cloning an individual patient's T-cells, reports the Los Angeles Times' Melissa Healy. Using this method, the team was able to stop disease progression in six of the 11 patients with aggressive melanoma in the trial, Healy says. Another patient experienced a complete remission. "The key is to identify specific cancer-fighting cells already circulating in the blood of patients and make thousands of copies of them in the lab," Healy says. "This type of 'adoptive immunotherapy' could be effective against a wide range of cancers."

Several researchers have done work on the viability of immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer. The Hutch researchers say their method has a better chance of success because they're more selective about the T-cells they choose to extract and clone. "Researchers drew blood from patients and scoured it to find the rare type of immune cell — a melanoma-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte cell — that specifically homes in on proteins expressed by the cancer," Healy says. "By choosing T-cells more selectively, patients can get by with much lower doses of [T-cell booster] interleukin-2, making the treatment less toxic."

The Scan

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