BOSTON (CBS) – For cancer patients, the treatment often feels worse than the disease, but scientists have developed a new therapy with virtually no side effects that may offer new hope for patients who are running out of time.
Tonya Hughes has advanced stage liver cancer that has spread to her lungs. She enrolled in the clinical trial after her doctors told her they were out of options.
“I don’t want it to be my death, but I want it to be maybe me helping someone else,” said Hughes.
WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports.
Hughes has allowed a camera crew to follow her through this entire process, which started last November in surgery when doctors removed four of the five tumors inside her lungs.
From the operating room, the tumors were taken to the lab, where technicians immediately began breaking them down into individual cancer cells.
The next day, Hughes’s cells were put into a machine, where they we’re super heated and shocked in a process that changes their genetic make-up.
“We’re now able to look at the differences between normal cells and cancer cells and try to target our therapy to the differences,” said Dr. Neil Senzer, a scientist.
Dr. Senzer identified a series of proteins within every cancer cell that helps them hide from the body’s immune system.
He discovered that by changing the genes within these cancer cells to block those proteins when injected back into a patient as a vaccine. The immune system begins to recognize the diseased cells and fights them all over the body.
Hughes received her first dose of the vaccine right before Christmas and gets a new dose each month through May.
She recently learned the vaccine seems to be working, and it has stopped the disease in its tracks.
“Now we’ve got to wait and watch and hope that her immune system continues to build to eventually hopefully demonstrate some shrinkage,” said Dr. Jon Nemunaitis, a scientist.
Hughes said she feels great and has no side effects from the vaccine.
Meanwhile, researchers are now planning to test it on ovarian cancer patients.