Cellular therapy: therapy of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes
Orlando Cancer Institute of Health
After being diagnosed and treated for an aggressive form of melanoma in 2015, Toni English of Rockledge had been in remission for nearly two years. In 2017, the cancer returned to his brain, lungs and kidneys and stopped responding to treatment. English thought she had “hit the end of the road” for the treatment. She was like, “OK, now what do we do? I exhausted everything that was there.
English consulted Dr. Sajeve Thomas, an oncologist and hematologist at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, who suggested he enroll in a clinical trial using tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy – an approach that essentially harnesses the own a person’s immune cells to fight their cancer.
With TIL therapy, the doctor cuts out at least a portion of the metastatic tumor, isolates killer T cells from the sample, and adds drugs to expand the cells by the billions in what Thomas calls a “clone army.” This cellular army is returned to the patient’s bloodstream via infusion, providing a more robust and sustained attack on the cancer. The treatment is administered only once during the same hospitalization.
In the case of English, it worked extraordinarily well. In the first weeks after the treatment, her tumors shrunk considerably. More than four years later, she remains cancer-free. “The TIL cells came in and took care of all the cancer,” says English. Overall response rates in the clinical trial were favorable, with tumors shrinking or remaining stable in four out of five patients. Researchers are studying whether TIL therapy could also help treat other types of solid tumors, including head, neck, lung and cervical cancers.