The promise of immunotherapy


As an eight-year, three-time, cancer survivor, I always read with interest in the latest advances in cancer treatment. Over the years I have been poked, prodded and probed. I have been subjected to MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, PET scans and frequent Blood work. When I had my prostatectomy, my surgeon said if I had waited 2-4 weeks longer, he wouldn’t have been able to save me. I have endured a few rounds of chemo and a few surgeries. I also had several months of radiation therapy at CCS in Lockport with Dr. Yi, which I credit as the treatment that saved my life.

I had so many doctors, procedures and was administered so many drugs that I had to carry a small notepad with me so I could remember them all. I also had a port installed in my chest that made it necessary for me to carry a card so I could pass thru airport security.

Because of this, I am intrigued by the latest course of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. A recently discovered method that uses the patient’s own body to cause the death of cancer cells that scientists have said might be more successful than the present treatment procedures.

Most current anti-cancer therapies like chemotherapy and radiation work by killing cancer cells through a process called “apoptosis” which activates proteins called “caspases”. This leads to cell death. However, in apoptosis, the therapies used often fail to kill all the cancer cells which can lead to the disease recurring or relapse.

This is what happened to me. The prostate cancer I had been treated for reappeared in a different location on two separate occasions, years apart. This is caused by the cancer cells breaking off from my original tumor and swimming around till they found a nice place to live and multiply. The first time this happened was in the fatty tissue below my liver. The last time I was diagnosed as having stage 4 cancer. I had 4 tumors. One in the lymph nodes in my lower abdomen and three along with my windpipe.  I now am looking at my 4th fight because my Prostrate Specific Antigen went up. This usually indicates a return of cancer.

Chemotherapy, due to the fact they infuse toxic poisons into your body can cause nasty side effects. The chemo I had put me in the hospital and caused all my hair to fall out. Scientists from the University of Glasgow sought to create a way to develop a therapy that kills the cancer cells while reducing unwanted toxicity.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment designed to allow a cancer patient’s very own immune system to discover and eradicate cancer cells where ever they are in the body. New immunotherapeutic methods have been successful when used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung, melanoma, bladder and kidney cancers. Clinical trials are underway for over 25 additional types of cancer. Patients who do respond to treatment have a much higher probability of a continued response because the immune system’s memory leads to an extended protection.

Scientists say they discovered a method to separate cancer-killing immune cells from a donor’s blood and then multiply them by millions. The “neutrophil” cells are a part of your body’s primary line of defense against foreign invaders. This is also known as the “innate immune system”. These cells are thought to be the reason that some people will naturally reject powerful cancers in circumstances that are described as a “miracle recovery”. And the clinical trials for this new therapy may possibly be happening as early as this year thanks to LIfT in conjunction with researchers from King’s College in London, England.

“It is something that I don’t believe has been done before, and producing these specific cells with a cancer-killing ability is a notion we had not thought of before. We are excited by these early results.” Said Alex Blyth, chief executive of LIfT Biosciences, whose mother Margaret was killed by pancreatic cancer in 2014. The team will focus on pancreatic cancer as this is one of the most lethal solid cancers. Mr. Blyth says neutrophils can be given to anyone without fear of serious rejection.

There is evidence the neutrophils can often become “blind” to cancer, but when they do target cancer, they eradicate up to 95% of the test cancer cells within 24 hours.

LIfT’s team has collected thousands of cells discarded as unwanted waste products by blood banks and is mass-screening them for their cancer-killing potential.

Unlike apoptosis, which is a silent form of cell death, when cancer cells die through Caspase-Independent Cell Death, called CICD, they alert the immune system through the release of inflammatory proteins. The immune system can then attack the remaining tumor cells that evaded the initial therapy induced death.

The trials, if they go ahead early this year, will involve a small number of patients with pancreatic cancer. The new method of killing cancer cells has led to the complete eradication of tumors in experimental models.

For those of us who have had cancer or are fighting cancer, these are exciting times. I hope the Food and Drug Administration approves this therapy as soon as possible. No one should have to go through what I went through.

Norb is a writer from Lockport. His blog is at


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