Advances in Personalized Medicine

An article published Thursday in the journal Science describes the treatment of a 43-year-old woman with an advanced and deadly type of cancer that had spread from her bile duct to her liver and lungs, despite chemotherapy.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute sequenced the genome of her cancer and identified cells from her immune system that attacked a specific mutation in the malignant cells. Then they grew those immune cells in the laboratory and infused billions of them back into her bloodstream.

The tumors began “melting away,” said Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, the senior author of the article and chief of the surgery branch at the cancer institute.

…[T]he report is noteworthy because it describes an approach that may also be applied to common tumors — like those in the digestive tract, ovaries, pancreas, lungs and breasts — that cause more than 80 percent of the 580,000 cancer deaths in the United States every year. (New York Times)

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Comments (11)

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  1. Anne says:

    This is great! Very promising. It’s nice to occasionally see some healthcare GOOD news.

  2. RWS says:

    I’m sure this sort of treatment will be incredibly expensive, though.

  3. Linda Gorman says:

    If we had a health care system in which people were responsible for arranging their own medical care, people would be celebrating this news rather than worrying about who would pay for it.

  4. Erik says:

    In light of the $1,000 per pill Hep C drug, I would say people would be concerned about costs.

    Health Insurance is about mitigating unexpected cost that arise out of medical treatment and care and should be a part of the solution.

    • John R. Graham says:

      I’m stepping out of my expertise here, because I am not an oncologist or scientist. However, I expect that this technique will dramatically reduce the cost of treatment as it advances.

      The new Hep C drugs are very expensive because of their R&D costs, but also costs of manufacturing, shipping, and storing hygienically. They are not pills that sit on a shelf.

      If they can take patients’ own immune cells and breed them, then inject them back into the patient, R&D costs are lower (because nature has already done it) and the active ingredient is not being bred in a central facility. So, many of the logistic challenges are different.

      (But I may be completely wrong! Scientists please weigh in!)

    • Devon Herrick says:

      As Linda alludes, if people paid their own medical bills the Hep C drug probably wouldn’t cost $1,000 per pill. Of course, there’s also the possibility that it wouldn’t exist. Third-party payment isn’t efficient; but (I would argue) it does encourage innovation since any new therapy has a ready-made market. I’m not suggesting that fact justifies using third-party payment for conditions that could more easily be paid out of pocket. It’s just my assumption that some of the rarer conditions would not be profitable to research if consumers were not able to pay $100,000 per year for a given treatment. On the other hand, some therapies that currently don’t exist would be available because of the feedback loop that consumers interacting with entrepreneurs creates. An example that is commonly used: consider the phone in your hand, the iPad in your purse and the HDTV in your home. These technologies would not be affordable if a government had to finance the R&D and regulate the production.

  5. Bill says:

    Wow. It is amazing what they can do these days! Is this form of treatment extremely difficult/expensive to administer?

  6. Mitch says:

    So could this procedure be performed at most hospitals? What kind of infrastructure/equipment is required??