Lab research may one day lead to cancer treatment using patient's own immune cells

January 15, 2007

A new line of developing research is underway that hopes to use a patient's own immune cells to fight cancer. The field, known as adoptive immunotherapy, is a specialty procedure performed in only a handful of institutions, which may one day include University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Julian A. Kim, M.D., chief of surgical oncology at UH Ireland Cancer Center, has received a $660,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a five-year study that hopes to lead to new treatments using a set of immune cells, called T cells, to fight skin cancer (melanoma) and breast cancer. The research project is called "Molecular studies of T cell clones for adoptive therapy."

The pre-clinical trial, which means it will be used only in human tissues in the laboratory at this stage, will focus on identifying and harvesting T cells within the lymph nodes of patients, activating these T cells and growing them in culture in the laboratory over one to two weeks. The T cells are activated with molecular agents called interleukin-2 and anti-CD3 antibody (OKT3).

It is hoped that results from this research could lead to a safety study, called a Phase I study, in humans using this process. This pre-clinical research will help researchers learn how to most effectively select and obtain the T cells for this form of therapy. In future use with humans, the cells would be grown in the cell processing facility located in the Iris S. and Bert L. Wolstein Research Building, which opened in 2003. The activated T cells would be reinfused into the bloodstream of the same patient to train their immune system to fight the cancer.

According to Kim, the Phase I study would involve about 20 patients and would open in about five years. "If these trials prove successful, a similar approach could be developed in patients with other types of cancer as well," said Kim.
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About University Hospitals

With 150 locations throughout Northeast Ohio, University Hospitals serves the needs of patients through an integrated network of hospitals, outpatient centers and primary care physicians. At the core of our Health System is University Hospitals Case Medical Center. The primary affiliate of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, University Hospitals Case Medical Center is home to some of the most prestigious clinical and research centers of excellence in the nation and the world, including cancer, pediatrics, women's health, orthopedics and spine, radiology and radiation oncology, neurosurgery and neuroscience, cardiology and cardiovascular surgery, organ transplantation and human genetics. Its main campus includes the internationally celebrated Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, ranked best in the Midwest and first in the nation for the care of critically ill newborns; MacDonald Women's Hospital, Ohio's only hospital for women; and Ireland Cancer Center, which holds the nation's highest designation by the National Cancer Institute of Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more information, go to www.UHhospital.org.

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