New cancer therapy gives hope to sufferers

2011-08-13 15:43

A South African cancer specialist says this week’s major breakthrough in the fight against the disease is good news for all cancer sufferers.

Dr Samuel Fourie, chairperson of the SA ­Society for Clinical Radiation, was responding to questions about an announcement by US ­scientists of their success. This after three leukaemia patients received treatment with a new cancer therapy – using the body’s own ­immune blood cells.

The treatment uses white T-cells or white blood cells which are scientifically manipulated, turning them into soldiers which then hunt and destroy cancer cells.

Carl June, who led the study, said: “It was known that T-cells attack viruses, but this is the first time it’s been done against cancer.”

For years scientists have been working to find ways to boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

“While similar approaches have been tried before with varying success, this seems to be the most promising thus far,” said Fourie.

While US scientists are already gearing up to try the same therapy on other kinds of cancer, Fourie cautions that the treatment is experimental.

“It needs to be studied in more extensive trials and only once there is more data on efficacy and possible side-effects will it be ­registered with regulating bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, and be made available for patients.”

The scientific breakthrough is significant not only because it was successful in the lab but on actual patients as well.

After almost a year of treatment, two of three men with advanced cases of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) appear almost cancer-free while the third has improved but still has some cancer, said June.

CLL is the second most common type of adult leukaemia, according to the US National Cancer Institute.

According to the Cancer Association of SA, one in six men and one in seven women in the country will get cancer during their lives.

Scientists don’t yet know how long patients will remain cancer-free after the therapy and until South Africa gets the technology, experts cannot provide a date before it is replicated here.

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