Article posted Thursday, April 3, 2014 2:53pm

According to Science and other science publications, the biomedical breakthrough of 2013 is cancer immunotherapy. In a nutshell, cells of a cancer patient’s immune system are manipulated and “taught” to seek out and destroy cancer cells. A new approach is to harvest certain immune cells from the patient’s blood, challenge them in a test-tube with antibodies against a protein from the patient’s cancer cells, and inject the primed cells back into the patient.

Here are some immunotherapy success stories. A woman with a grapefruit-sized tumor in her lung from melanoma is alive 13 years after treatment. A 6-year-old near death from leukemia is now in the third grade and in complete remission. A new approach is to remove immune cells from a patient, modify them to make them target cancer cells, and inject them back into the patient. Although not always successful, some remarkable recoveries have resulted from this approach. But take note: not all patients subjected to immunotherapy get better. (Science, Dec. 20, 2013)