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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Advances in Personalized Immunotherapy Hold Promise for Multiple Cancers

B&W imaging before and after of cancer lesions treated with TIL therapy

A woman with breast cancer had metastatic lesions in her chest wall (top, l) and liver (bottom, l). After TIL therapy, her tumors shrank completely. Recent scans (right) show she remains cancer free more than 5 years later.

Photo: National Cancer Institute

NIH researchers have found unique expression profiles in 50 genes that help identify rare anti-tumor lymphocytes that can infiltrate and help defeat metastatic solid epithelial tumors. To develop these profiles, a highly sensitive assay was designed that identified tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) with cell surface receptors that can recognize the products of the very mutations that caused the cancer.

The research, led by Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of the Surgery Branch at NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, appeared in Science.

This finding in TILs is especially important because it is agnostic to the type of tumor a patient has; it seems to have promise in stomach, esophageal, ovarian and breast cancers, among other types of tumors. The identification of these lymphocytes could help advance the development and effectiveness of personalized cancer immunotherapies for patients whose cancers do not respond to standard treatments.

Until now, to maximize the potential of TIL therapy, Rosenberg’s team had to look at every potential mutation in a tumor that could be a target. But after years of effort, the team developed this new assay that identifies the gene expression profiles of a few rare lymphocytes that recognize mutated cell surface proteins of cancerous cells, thereby negating the need for a mutation-by-mutation search.

Rosenberg pioneered the development of cell-based immunotherapy, a highly personalized form of cancer treatment that uses a person’s own immune system to fight tumor cells. His studies of the adoptive transfer of genetically modified immune cells have resulted in tumor shrinkage in patients with metastatic cancer.

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