National Geographic reports the good news:
Two of 17 people with advanced melanoma—a deadly form of skin cancer—who underwent experimental treatment with the engineered immune cells saw their tumors shrivel.
A year and a half after therapy began, the two patients were declared free of the disease.
“This is the first example of an effective gene therapy that works in cancer patients,” said Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and leader of the research team.
The therapy has so far been applied only to melanoma patients. But the researchers are optimistic that their treatment can be used for many other types of cancer.
The team has already engineered similar immune cells for more common tumors, such as breast, lung, and liver cancers.
The research appears in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science.
Granted, there’s a lot to be skeptical about, and I don’t think that this partial success is much consolation to the 15 patients who still have cancer. But every big advance begins with a small step; Jenner’s vaccine took time to catch on, too.
A year ago, I read Biology as Ideology, a book that claims that modern genetics is based on a warped ideology and has no medical applications; back in 1991, Lewontin said that the Human Genome Project would be a waste of money and gene therapy was a pipedream. Fifteen years later, scientists may have just found a cure for cancer by genetic engineering.