ORLANDO, Fla. – Doctors describe cancer as a war inside the body, and the fight to win that war means finding a cure.
Dr. Sajeve Thomas, an oncologist and hematologist at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, has been working on a treatment that is shrinking tumors, using cells from the patient’s body.
“It looks to me to be a miracle if you didn’t know any better,” Thomas said.
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Toni English had already been fighting a rare form of cancer for three years before she found that miracle treatment.
“I had just found out that I was going to be a grandmother right after my diagnosis, and the thought that I wouldn’t get to watch my grandchild grow up and have memories there,” English said.
Surgery, radiation and several treatments were unsuccessful for English’s cancer. That’s when Thomas recommended her for a clinical trial.
“I just jumped up and I said ‘absolutely, I’ll do anything, I’ll try anything if it can take care of my cancer,’” English said.
The clinical trial for TIL therapy offered a new option for patients fighting melanoma. English’s stage four mucosal melanoma had spread to her brain, the lungs and the kidney.
“I wanted the treatment, whether it helped me or not. I wanted that treatment to be a part of that clinical trial to see if we could find a cure for rare cancers,” English said.
Thomas explained that the TIL therapy infuses the patient’s own T-cells back into the patient, in addition to some other medications, to reinvigorate the patient’s immune system.
“This is a war, we are fighting against the cancer,” Thomas said.
The TIL treatment lasts about three weeks in the hospital. Six weeks after the treatment English’s tumors were smaller and six months after they were gone.
“Now I have folks that are more than 3 years out just with the one-time approach of TIL therapy never having to go back on therapy ever again,” Thomas said.
Thomas said TIL therapy is on its way to FDA approval and by 2022 he expects all patients to have access.
Researchers plan to expand TIL therapy for other types of cancer, including lung, cervical and head and neck cancers. All are currently in clinical trials.