| Mark Origer at the wedding of his daughter Katie
London, Sept. 1: Gene therapy has eradicated cancer from two dying men using genetically modified versions of their own cells.
Both were suffering from advanced melanoma but the technique could be customised to attack other common cancers.
Although scientists remain cautious because there have been many false dawns in the use of gene therapy, the results show, in principle at least, that aggressive cancer can be treated this way, even after it has spread and the outlook is grim.
Mark Origer, 53, told The Daily Telegraph last night how, after five years of losing the battle with the disease, he was made well enough to attend his daughter’s wedding last year.
“She wanted me to be there for her and she wanted me to be there for me,” he said.
Origer was diagnosed with melanoma — the most aggressive form of skin cancer — in 1999.
A cyst which grew on the same area of his back in 2002 was found to have malignant cells and the cancer continued to spread until, in June 2004, it was found in his liver. He underwent various chemical and surgical treatments, but none was found to stop the spread of cancer.
In December 2004, he was given the gene therapy and was discharged the same month. By January 2005, his tumours had shrunk by half and by last September, when he attended his daughter Katie’s wedding, one small spot remained in his liver which surgeons removed.
Last week, doctors pronounced him completely clear of cancer cells.
Of the 17 patients with advanced skin cancer who underwent gene therapy, the treatment worked only on Origer and “Thomas M”, aged 39, clearing the disease from liver, lymph node and lung.
But scientists believe they can improve the response and adapt it to fight other cancers, notably breast, colon and lung.
The success using the patients’ genetically modified white blood cells is reported today in the journal Science by a team at the US National Cancer Institute led by Dr Steven Rosenberg, a pioneer in the field.
He said: “Both patients are still free of the disease, after 18 months.”