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Gene therapy cancer treatment begins.

In the first gene therapy attempt to fight cancer with cancer, physicians at the National Institutes of Health last week gave a cancer patient an experimental dose of his own tumor cells genetically engineered to bolster his immune system.

Steven A. Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute injected 200 million live tumor cells containing added genes for tumor necrosis factor (TNF) into the thigh of a 46-year-old man with advanced melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Rosenberg had taken the malignant cells from the man's skin and used a crippled retrovirus to insert into them extra copies of the gene for the immunity-stimulating protein TNF.

In three months, Rosenberg plans to remove some of the man's white blood cells, called lymphocytes, which the extra TNF genes have stimulated to attack the engineered tumor cells. After multiplying 200 billion of the lymphocytes in a second laboratory culture, he intends to readminister them to the patient, in the hope that they will home in on and kill most of the man's melanoma tumors.

Rosenberg began the new therapy just hours after receiving approval from the agency's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee and the NIH director. He first proposed the experiment at a meeting of cancer experts in May (SN: 5/25/91, p.326).

Rosenberg has permission to test the gene therapy treatment on 15 patients--five each with advanced melanoma, colorectal cancer and kidney cancer -- over the next year. He also has clearance to treat some of these 15 patients with their own tumor cells engineered to carry a gene for a second immune-stimulating protein, interleukin-2.

Rosenberg says the immunity boosting genes should help the patients' bodies to recognize and fight their cancers. By removing and multiplying the cancer-fighting lymphocytes in the experiment's second step, he says he expects to increase each patient's anti-cancer arsenal.
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Title Annotation:melanoma
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 19, 1991
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