Updated 10/26/2011 12:01 AM
Immune Systems May Provide Clues To Defeat Cancer
Examining how our immune systems can beat cancer is an approach more scientists, including some in New York City, are increasingly taking to fighting the disease. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
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In a recent groundbreaking Philadelphia study, scientists were able to successfully send leukemia into complete remission in at least two patients by reprogramming their T-cells to kill off cancer cells.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Pelham section of the Bronx are doing similar work, tracking down macrophages, another kind of cell from our immune system. The goal is to or remove, prevent or train them to become a tumor's attacker rather than helper.
Dr. Jeffrey Pollard of Albert Einstein recently received an American Cancer Society Medal Of Honor for his role discovering how the cells help breast cancer spread.
"We think that in targeting macrophages, it will be a good strategy to help with the deadly stage of breast cancer, that is, metastasis of the bone and lung and other tissues," says Pollard.
His colleague, Dr. Sal Coniglio, is using that same approach to work with drug companies developing therapies to treat glioblastoma, one of the most life-threatening forms of brain cancer.
"It is essentially a death sentence. The reason for that is you can't remove it because it spreads so efficiently in the brain," says Coniglio. "This is a disease where, if you can inhibit the ability of the cells to spread, you've gone hopefully a long way toward curing the disease."
Immune therapy research may even replace or reduce the severity of chemotherapy and radiation treatments down the road.
"I went through six months of chemotherapy, which was brutal," says Yulinda Lewis-Kelly, a breast cancer patient in Midtown Manhattan. "And so, if there is something out there that's less hard on your body, then I think it is excellent."
Researchers say while all the latest discoveries have been major steps forward, eventually combining them to all work together could become one of the biggest breakthroughs of all.
"Technologies will be combined, anti-suppressive technologies, so you'll get an even bigger kick for your buck," says Pollard.