A new way of treating cancer in Montreal is a Canadian first.
The CHUM superhospital today unveiled a unique piece of immunotherapy technology that helps doctors attack the disease using the patient’s own tumour.
Frédéric Tremblay has been battling cancer for the better part of the past decade.
“In 2010, I had my first diagnosis of melanoma,” he told Global News.
He’s gotten to know his cancer doctor Rahima Jamal all too well.
“I see my family a lot, but there are time I think we saw each other more,” she said.
Nowadays he’s doing a lot better, thanks to immunotherapy.
“When they first talked to me about that, it sounded like science fiction,” Tremblay said.
“We’re using immunotherapy in lots of cancers right now,” said Jamal, an oncologist who specializes in skin cancers.
Immunotherapy is the use of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
“In the past 10 years, there have been many developments, many forms of immunotherapy,” said Dr. Simon Turcotte, a cancer researcher at the CHUM.
Researchers like Turcotte are learning that the tools to fight cancer can come from within the patient’s own body. They’re finding ways to give natural cancer fighting cells more power.
“There’s a limit to what the immune system can produce in a patient,” Turcotte explained.
That’s where their new “advanced closed-system cell sorter” comes in. It’s one of just 20 in the world, and costs $500,000. The German-made machine allows doctors to find the cells in the patient’s own tumor that are the best at fighting cancer, isolate them, replicate them on a large scale and then send them back into the body.
“We do outside the body what the body cannot do itself,” Turcotte told Global News.
The technology is still in the experimental phase.
“We hope to have the capacity to work with the patients in the next few years,” said Dr. Rejean Lapointe, director of the CHUM’s Cancer Unit.
Their hope is that this kind of immunotherapy can become as common as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Research done in Montreal can help make that happen.
“Immunotherapy can emerge as the next pillar,” said Turcotte.
Frédéric Tremblay saw immunotherapy work for him, and now he has a baby on the way.
“If we hadn’t had it on time,” his doctor Rahima Jamal told him today, “It’s hard for me to say this, but we probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
“So many people fight this, but so few win,” Tremblay said, fighting back tears.
Researchers hope that with the help of their new piece of technology, many more can start winning.