Research will begin this week at Yale University on an experimental treatment that could help the body's immune system fight off two types of incurable cancer.
Yale is one of 13 cancer centers across the country chosen by the National Cancer Institute to test interleukin-2 on renal cell cancer of the kidney and melanoma, a skin cancer that spreads rapidly through the body.Neither cancer responds to traditional treatments, said Dr. Mary B. Todd, assistant professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, who is heading the research.
But Todd said research done by the National Cancer Institute using interleukin-2, or IL-2, which is produced by the body's immune system in small amounts, suggested the substance may help treat those cancers.
The experiments are being funded by a $60,000 grant from Cetus Corp. of Emeryville, Calif., which hopes its newly developed method of producing large amounts of IL-2 can be turned into a profitable venture.
The company produces the IL-2 using a gene-splicing method, creating large quantities of the substance, which is one of several that can boost the effectiveness of the human immune system.
"In a sense it amounts to amplifying the body's own defenses. But your body would never make this amount of IL-2" said Todd.
IL-2 works by enhancing production of white blood cells that attack invading organisms and alien cells.
Until recently only small amounts of IL-2 had been available, but when Cetus began creating large quantities, the National Cancer Institute conducted a study in which five out of 16 melanoma patients had 50 percent reductions in their tumors.
The side effects, including low blood pressure, fluid retention and death in 1-2 percent of the patients, were severe and part of Yale's task is to find a way to eliminate problems with the substance.
Todd said use of the body's own defense mechanisms to treat cancer was becoming more common and Yale planned to set up a lab to continue research on the subject.