Super strength immune cells help fight cancer

What if the cure for cancer could be found in the body’s own immune system with a little help from modern science?

Now a clinical trial, and some super strength cells, is giving patients hope.

For Marty Melley, life is best spent on the go.

"I always said if this thing ever got me it would be while I was moving, not while I'm standing still," said Melley.

“This thing” is multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. Once diagnosed, patients usually have three to five years. Marty found out after the birth of his first grandchild.

"I wanted to see him grow a little bit," he said.

After a stem cell transplant, Marty went into remission, but the cancer came back. That’s when he enrolled in a new clinical trial.

"We're actually taking the patient's own immune cells, and we're genetically modifying them,” said Aaron Rapoport of the Greenebaum Cancer Center at the University of Maryland.

That army of T-cells are then able to recognize and attack the cancer cells. The therapy is done together with a stem cell transplant that helps rebuild the body’s blood system.

"Patients tolerate the infusion very well," said Rapoport.

Initial results show that more than 80 percent of patients either went into a complete or near-complete remission or were close to it. Now 11 years after what appeared to be his death sentence, Melley has two grandsons to share his wisdom with.

"When you want to do something, don't wait until the golden years, cause sometimes your golden years, the gold is used to pay the doctor bills,” said Melley.

A final analysis of the study is expected to be completed by 2014. Participants are all in advanced stages of myeloma.

There’s also a new trial in the works to see how using the genetically-engineered T-cells alone will work without a stem cell transplant.

Researchers are also hoping to start using this type of therapy in other types of cancer.


REPORT: MB# 3654

BACKGROUND: Multiple myeloma is a cancer of your plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in your bone marrow. Plasma cells normally make proteins called antibodies to help you fight infections. In multiple myeloma, a group of plasma cells (myeloma cells) becomes cancerous and multiplies, raising the number of plasma cells to a higher than normal level. (SOURCE:

ESTIMATED NEW CASES AND DEATHS: It is estimated that in the US over 22 thousand people will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma and over half of them will die from the disease in 2013. (SOURCE:

SYMPTOMS: No one knows the exact causes of multiple myeloma, but it is more common in older people and African Americans. It can also run in families. Common symptoms may include:
* Bone pain, often in the back or ribs
* Broken bones
* Weakness or fatigue
* Weight loss
* Repeated infections
* Frequent infections and fevers
* Feeling very thirsty
* Frequent urination

LATEST MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGH: While there's no cure for multiple myeloma, with good treatment results patients can usually return to near-normal activity. There are several treatment options, including stem cell transplantation. This treatment involves using high-dose chemotherapy - usually high doses of melphalan - along with transfusion of previously collected immature blood cells (stem cells) to replace diseased or damaged marrow. The stem cells can come from the patient or from a donor, and they may be from either blood or bone marrow. (SOURCE:

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Karen E. Warmkessel
Media Relations Manager
University of Maryland Medical Center/University of Maryland Medical System

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