Treating cancer with resistant cells

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
June 30, 2008 4:46:16 PM PDT
For a decade, cancer researchers have been studying a method using healthy white blood cells to fight cancer. They are ready for the important step of using cells from healthy people who may be naturally cancer resistant to fight malignant tumors in others. Nearly 10 years ago, Wake Forest University cancer researcher Zheng Cui discovered a mouse that wouldn't get cancer, despite being injected with large doses of what should have been lethal cancer cells.

He bred a colony of the mice and identified immune cells in their blood that seek out and destroy tumor cells. He and colleague Mark Willingham then used these cells to cure advanced tumors in other mice.

The finding led to pleas from cancer patients to try such transfusions in people.

"Most people could really care less about the cancer problem in mice," Dr. Cui said. "They all want know about what's the implication in humans."

Since then, the researchers developed a test to identify cancer-killing cells in the blood of people. They are still trying to decode the basic genetics of this cancer-killing ability, but they've also been pushing for approval to test whether these cells collected from the blood of healthy people can benefit people with cancer. They now have that approval.

"If we can identify cancer-resistant humans, why not just do the same thing as we did in the mice, without even knowing the mechanism and to find out whether it will work or not?" Dr. Cui said.

Dr. Cui points out that cell donation treatments are already routine in medicine. What is different about this study is that donors will be selected by testing their body cells' anti-cancer activity. So stay tuned.

Researchers will now begin to recruit as many as 500 potential cell donors to be screened for cancer resistance. They will select donors by testing whether their white blood cells show this same ability to kill human tumor cells in the lab. Those cells will then be used to treat 22 patients with advanced cancers.

Other researchers remain cautious, however. Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said it was important to note that we simply won't know anything about the viability of the therapy for humans until the clinical trial begins.

"We're always hopeful," he said. "But we have to temper our enthusiasm."

For more information on the clinical trials, CLICK HERE.


STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg