Researchers at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center are using an experimental therapy to fight “incurable” cancer.
The therapy is called “Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes” or TILs for short. For patients with stage IV melanoma whose tumors progress after standard therapy, this type of immunotherapy may be an option.
Until Fall 2016, patients had to travel to the south or east coastline of the United States to receive this novel therapy – either MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, or the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.
Kentucky is still the only land-locked state where TILs is available. Patients have traveled to Louisville from Denver, Minnesota, Illinois and Tennessee for this treatment.
Dr. Jason Chesney, principal investigator for the trial who is also director of UofL Brown Cancer Center explains how it works: Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that has left the bloodstream and entered a tumor. These cells are pulled from the patient’s tumor and removed from the body. Those white blood cells are then multiplied so billions of those cells are infused back into the patient, which stimulates the immune system to kill the tumor.
Chesney describes it as a mini version of a bone marrow transplant. It’s difficult and painful, but Chesney is encouraged by his patients’ progress, strength and determination. And early studies have shown TILs induced durable remissions.
If this trial phase is successful, then FDA approval could be attainable. And there is a broader hope this cell-based therapy will go beyond skin cancer.
Chesney said “this cutting-edge cell-based therapy will further expand our nationally-recognized immuno-oncology program.”
"It opens the door not just for patients with melanoma, but also for patients that have multiple types: breast cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, you name it," Chesney said.
TILs at UofL Brown Cancer Center is expanding to lung cancer, cervical cancer, and head and neck cancer.