Until now, the greatest successes for a technique known as adoptive cell therapy (ACT) have been seen in melanoma, but researchers are curious to find out if the approach could work in cancers of the digestive tract, lung, pancreas, breast or bladder.
The journal Science published an article describing how the technique was able to shrink tumors in a 43-year-old woman with advanced cholangiocarcinoma, a form of digestive tract cancer that had spread to her lungs and liver.
The advance could mark a step forward in the fight against epithelial cancer, a group which makes up 80 percent of all cancers and 90 percent of cancer deaths in the United States.
The process works by collecting the patient's own immune cells, a kind called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), selecting those with the best anti-tumor activity and growing them in the lab for re-infusion into the patient.
After the patient received her first injection of these TILs, her metastatic lung and liver tumors stabilized.
About 13 months later, her disease began progressing again, so doctors re-treated her, and she "experienced tumor regression that was ongoing as of the last follow up (six months after the second T-cell infusion)," the study said.
While lead researcher Steven Rosenberg, chief of the Surgery Branch in National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research, cautioned that the research is at an early stage, he said it could offer a "blueprint" for other cancers.
"The strategies reported here could be used to generate a T-cell adoptive cell therapy for patients with common cancers," said Rosenberg.
Researchers hope that one day, a range of personalized immune therapies will replace chemotherapy as the main approach to attacking cancer.