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Orlando Health Cancer Institute uses cellular immunotherapy to destroy cancer cells

Cell Therapy: Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes Therapy

Orlando Health Cancer Institute

After being diagnosed and treated for an aggressive form of melanoma in 2015, Toni English of Rockledge was in remission for nearly two years. In 2017, the cancer returned in her brain, lungs and kidney and stopped responding to treatments. English thought she’d “hit the end of the road” for treatment. She thought, “OK, now what do we do? I’ve exhausted all that was out there.”

English consulted with Dr. Sajeve Thomas, an oncologist and hematologist at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, who suggested she enroll in a clinical trial using tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) therapy — an approach that essentially harnesses a person’s own immune cells to fight their cancer.

With TIL therapy, the doctor cuts out at least part of the metastatic tumor, isolates killer T-cells from the specimen and adds medications to expand the cells by the billions into what Thomas calls a “clone army.” That cellular army is delivered back into the patient’s bloodstream via an infusion, providing a more robust and sustained attack on the cancer. The treatment is administered one time during a single hospital admission.

In English’s case, it worked extraordinarily well. Within the first few weeks after the treatment, her tumors shrank significantly. More than four years later, she remains cancer-free. “The TIL cells just went in and took care of all the cancer,” says English. Overall response rates in the clinical trial were favorable, with tumors shrinking or remaining stable in four out of five patients. Researchers are investigating whether TIL therapy might also help to treat other types of solid tumors, including cancers of the head, neck, lung and cervix.