Gene therapy is an experimental approach that uses a person’s own genetic material to fight cancer and other diseases.
Genes can’t be directly inserted into cells, so scientists use viruses, or carriers, to deliver the genes. Viruses are unique because they recognize certain cells and can insert genetic material into them.
There are many different approaches, and new studies using gene therapy for other forms of cancer are expected to begin in the next few months at the National Cancer Institute.
In this study of 17 patients with advanced-stage melanoma, a type of skin cancer, patient blood samples were drawn and mixed with genes from a person only known as Patient No. 9, who had a type of white- blood cell, known as lymphocytes, or T-cells, that naturally targets tumor cells.
Most melanoma patients lack this type of T-cell.
The cells were grown in a lab, enhanced and multiplied into the billions, until they could be given back to patients through intravenous infusion.
More information: www.cancer. gov, or call NCI’s cancer information service, 800-422-6237.