Gene Therapy Shows Promise Against Melanoma

A newly discovered technique of gene therapy may be applicable to other cancers, too, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The American Cancer Society stated that researchers from the institute say they have found a way to turn normal white blood cells into cancer fighters.

Cancer researchers have been trying for decades to find a way to make the body’s immune system recognize cancer cells and attack them, the same way it attacks viruses or transplanted organs.

The NCI researchers used gene therapy to make normal immune system cells deadly to metastatic melanoma, a particularly difficult form of cancer to treat.

In lab work, they also created altered immune cells that would attack other types of cancer cells, hinting at wider uses for this treatment.

Some people with melanoma already have immune cells that naturally attack the tumor cells.

But not everyone with melanoma has those natural tumor fighters.

Researchers led by Steven Rosenberg, M.D., PhD, a noted expert in cancer immunology said he wanted to find a way to make normal immune system cells behave like these hard-to-find tumor fighters.

First the researchers took T-cells, a type of white blood cell, from 17 people with metastatic melanoma that had not responded to treatment.

Two of the patients responded especially well to the treatment.

The American Cancer Society named 73 ambassadors to represent local communities across North Texas at Celebration on the Hill 2006, a nationwide event to be held in Washington, D.C. Sept. 19-20 to engage members of Congress in the fight against cancer.

Gwendolyn Fontenot Bell of Bedford, TX, is one of those people chosen.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31,” she said. “My little girl was two years old and she was the number one reason for me to fight. When I first started feeling bad before being diagnosed with cancer, I went to the doctor, and after finding the lump the doctor still didn’t want to do a mammogram. He thought I was too young to have breast cancer.”

Bell said had she not pushed the doctor to do a mammogram she wouldn’t be here today to tell her story.

“I believe that early detection should be part of the treatment plan for a healthy life,” she said. “After I had the mammogram done the doctor was able to see the mass. The doctor sent me to a cancer doctor. I had no way of knowing that I was going to be fighting for my life.”

Bell was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and said had she waited one month longer she would have died.

“Well, I didn’t die because it wasn’t God’s time for me to go,” said Bell. “It’s been eight years and I am happy and blessed to be alive. My reason for volunteering for Celebration on the Hill is so the next person who is too young to have cancer will survive.”

For more information on the American Cancer Society, call 800-ACS-2345 or visit

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