Health Beat: Super-strength immune cells fighting cancer

Health Beat: Super-strength immune cells fighting cancer

BALTIMORE - What if the cure for cancer could be found in the body's own immune system, with a little help from modern science? Now, a new clinical trial is giving patients hope.

For Marty Melley, life is best spent on the go.

"I always said if this thing ever got me, it would be while I was moving, not while I'm standing still," said Melley.

"This thing" is multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. Once diagnosed, patients usually have three to five years. Melley found out after the birth of his first grandchild.

"I wanted to see him grow a little bit," Melley said.

After a stem cell transplant, Melley went into remission, but the cancer came back. That's when he enrolled in a new clinical trial.

"We're actually taking the patient's own immune cells, and we're genetically modifying them," said Dr. Aaron Rapoport, of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore.

That army of t-cells are then able to recognize and attack the cancer cells. The therapy is done together with a stem cell transplant that helps rebuild the body's blood system.

"Patients tolerate the infusion very well," Rapoport said.

Initial results show that more than 80 percent of patients either went into a complete or near-complete remission or were close to it. Now, 11 years after what appeared to be his death sentence, Melley has two grandsons to share his wisdom with.

"When you want to do something, don't wait until the golden years, cause sometimes your golden years, the gold is used to pay the doctor bills," said Melley.

A final analysis of the study is expected to be completed by 2014. Participants are all in advanced stages of myeloma.

There's also a new trial in the works to see how using the genetically engineered t-cells alone will work without a stem cell transplant. Researchers are also hoping to start using this type of therapy in other types of cancer.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Aaron Rapoport about immune cells fighting cancer

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