Judy was told she only had three months to live. In hopes of saving her life, she tried an experimental new therapy, an adoptive cell transfer, in which her own body’s T-cells (the fighter cells of the immune system) were extracted directly from her tumor and then multiplied millions of times to create an army before being pumped back into her body to fight off the cancer.
Judy joins The Doctors on Skype and is excited to share she is now two years cancer free! Judy says she initially had a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis so received a mastectomy and then her cancer metastasized ten years later. She went through chemo and hormonal therapies and another clinical trial before finding the one that worked, which was headed by Dr. Stephanie Goff.
Judy describes her experience while on the treatment. It began with a heavy dose of chemotherapy and for a little while, she felt like “death warmed over,” but then, she could actually feel her tumor shrinking.
Dr. Goff also joins on Skype to further discuss the procedure. Dr. Goff explains the protocol was building on decades of trying to understand how the immune cells and cancer fit together. Dr. Goff was able to feel Judy’s tumor which they removed and then minced up into tiny pieces to try and grow immune cells from it. That process takes about a month. “We could actually sequence all the way down to the DNA of her tumor and find every little individual letter where it’s different than her normal DNA,” Dr. Goff explains.
Dermatologist Dr. Sonia Batra clarifies that they are selecting out the immune cells that only recognize those mutations and are attacking the unique DNA mutations of Judy’s tumor. Dr. Goff says the problem with cancer is it looks like the patient (so the immune system does not know to fight it off) until it starts to have mutations and some mutations make it just different enough that the immune system can recognize the cancer is not supposed to be there and that’s when it engages and fights it off.
Dr. Goff says this treatment is not yet readily available but there are some centers across the country that are starting to do this in tumors, not necessarily in breast cancer, but with melanoma, they have been doing this for the past 5-7 years. She thinks it will be another 5-10 years before this is available to patients not part of clinical trials. However, the proof of principle, even with breast cancer, (which they didn’t think the immune system could treat very well) is showing that this could really work! Dr. Batra points out that Judy is a testament to that!