A woman has been completely cured of breast cancer after doctors tweaked her immune system, enabling it to destroy the tumours that had spread through her body.
The treatment, which succeeded after all other conventional treatments had failed, marks the first successful application of T-cell immunotherapy for late-stage breast cancer.
While the technique is still in its early days, scientists have welcomed its potential as a future treatment for cancers that have resisted all other forms of therapy.
Judy Perkins, a 49-year-old engineer from Florida, was selected to undergo the cutting edge treatment after several chemotherapy sessions had failed to kill the tumour, which had begun to spread to her liver. Before the new treatment, doctors had given her three years to live.
She was treated by a team led by Dr Steven Rosenberg at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Maryland.
The clinical trial, which is still ongoing, used modified T-cells – which make up part the body’s immune response – to tackle the patient’s tumours.
Doctors caring for Ms Perkins during her recovery described her return to health as “remarkable”. She has now been entirely free of cancer for two years.
Immunotherapy, which involves stimulating the body’s natural defences to fight cancer, is already being used to tackle certain cancers, and some forms are already available on the NHS.
However, the response rate to even the most successful treatments is relatively low, with one recently trialled therapy showing strong effects in only around 10 per cent of prostate cancer patients.
Previous clinical trials using immunotherapy to treat breast cancer have proved largely ineffective.
The new approach pioneered by Dr Rosenberg and his team was based on an existing technique called adoptive cell transfer that has proved effective when treating melanoma, but not other forms of the disease.