Would immunotherapy work for other cancers?

23 February 2016

Question

A question in regards to your discussion on the new cancer treatment. My son has bilateral retinoblastoma it is a genetic type. The chances of secondary cancer is high. How would this treatment work in a case where cancer forms at different times? How would it effect the fact that it's in his DNA? If the white blood cells remember that cancer is bad would this coding be passed onto his children?

Answer

Dr Chris Smith answered Jess' question... Chris - Retinoblastoma is a tumour in the back of the eye. It is caused by inheriting a faulty copy of a gene that stops cells dividing when something goes wrong and this means that there is a high likelihood that an individual who has this change to their DNA will develop a cancer, not just in one eye, but in both eyes and at a very young age. Now the problem with using this same treatment that we've heard about from the blood cancer on retinoblastoma, ask Kat says, you need to find a marker which would single out the cancer cells from healthy tissue. Now, actually, with the present treatment that Kat's been talking about, they didn't do that. What they used is a marker that's present all kinds of immune cells called B-lymphocytes in the body, a subset of which in these patients were the cancerous ones so, actually, they did destroy some healthy cells, some B-lymphocytes in order to get rid of the cancerous B-lymphocytes and these people now no longer have B-cells; they can't make any of their own antibodies, they're going to be dependent on blood transfusions. But there is currently no marker that we know of that we could use specifically for these retinal cells that might be cancerous which would prevent the immune system from damaging a healthy retinal cell as well, and we don't want to send someone blind unnecessarily. So, at this stage, it needs a lot more work as you say.

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