Emily Lorin Ashkin
Immunotherapy represents one of the more promising approaches to treating melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and cancers in general. This type of therapy involves boosting the immune system's ability to recognize and destroy cancer cells. In immunotherapy, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILS), white blood cells that identify and destroy tumor cells, are extracted, cultured, and infused back to the patient. During processing, however, rapid changes in the tumor can render this treatment ineffective. This research is the first to demonstrate that a specific chemotherapy can synergistically enhance a melanoma patient's response to immunotherapy. This finding has great clinical application. Efforts are currently in progress with clinicians and physician scientists to set up a clinical trial at MD Anderson to test out the findings. Ultimately, this combinatorial approach represents a new paradigm in cancer therapy whereby older, "off-the-shelf" treatments like chemotherapy are coupled with newer treatments like immunotherapy, resulting in more saved lives. Hopefully this approach will be used in the future for not only melanoma, but also for pancreatic cancer and lymphoma.