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Strengthening the immune system to fight cancer?

Published on October 21, 2015 at 14:42 / Updated on January 14, 2020 at 15:36

A group of scientists claims to have succeeded in curing skin cancer for the very first time in the history of medicine. They achieved this amazing triumph by means of a complex and innovative technique which consists in multiplying the immune system cells of a patient and subsequently re-introducing them to the body in order to trigger a strong immune response.

The immune system plays a considerable role in the fight against cancer and this is one of the reasons researchers are attempting to find ways of stimulating the body to attack malignant tumours. This is what led a group of American scientists to harvest CD4+ T cells from a sample of white blood cells of a patient suffering from advanced melanoma. These cells were specifically primed to attack a chemical compound found on the surface of melanoma cells. T lymphocytes belong to a group of white blood cells that play a vital role in cell-mediated immunity. They are programmed to attack and destroy various foreign pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Moreover, T lymphocytes will also attack their own body’s mutated cells, such as cancerous cells for example.

This patient’s T lymphocytes were multiplied in the laboratory and were then re-introduced in his blood stream by the billions. Two months later, scintigrams, also known as scintiscans, revealed that the tumours, which had spread to the lungs and lymph nodes, had completely disappeared. The good news is that no new tumours were found two years after the initial treatment.

Even though this innovative treatment seems to have worked spectacularly well for one patient, scientists will have to conduct further clinical studies to confirm the effectiveness of this technique. Furthermore, this procedure is only applicable to a small percentage of individuals suffering from advanced skin cancer.

Certain scientists believe that when we gain a clearer understanding of the immune system and of the tools that can be used to modulate its response, we will be able to control cancer, and that it will one day become a chronic disease like diabetes. Although many years of research will be needed before such an amazing feat can be achieved, it is nevertheless a positive step forward in the fight against cancer.

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