In recent years, significant strides have been made in the field of cancer treatment. One such breakthrough is tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, also known as TIL therapy.
The team at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper has been on the forefront in the development of this novel treatment for patients and we are currently studying this treatment for patients with advanced melanoma and other solid tumors, including metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. This therapy is also being studied in treating patients with gynecologic cancers and head and neck cancers.
The team at MD Anderson at Cooper is proud to be one of the few select centers in the country able deliver this personalized, cellular therapy treatment to our patients. Young Ki Hong, MD, MPH, surgical oncologist, leads the TIL team at MD Anderson at Cooper, and is the principal investigator of several TIL studies. Dr. Hong brings unique expertise in this treatment from his prior investigational work with TIL therapy at the National Institutes of Health.
Because of our team’s expertise in providing complex cancer care, MD Anderson at Cooper is now the first in world to offer a new clinical trial for patients with untreated, unresectable, or metastatic melanoma, which compares TIL therapy in combination with Pembrolizumab, to the standard of care treatment of Pembrolizumab alone.
What are TILs?
Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are a type of T cell (cells in our bodies that fight cancer, infection, and other diseases).
TILs constantly roam the body and are designed to recognize, attack, and destroy cancer cells. TILs recognize cancer through tumor markers on the surface of cancer cells that are unique to each person.
What is TIL therapy?
TIL therapy is a personalized form of immunotherapy, known as adoptive cellular therapy, which harnesses the power of a patient's immune system to eliminate cancer cells.
After fighting cancer for so long, a patient’s cancer-fighting TILs are depleted and no longer effective. TIL therapy replaces these ineffective cells with the patient’s own boosted, lab-grown cells that can renew the fight against certain types of cancer.
In most cases, patients only need this treatment once, because the new TILs regenerate and form lasting memory cells, which continue to seek out and eliminate any new cancer cells. Research has documented numerous patients who have been cured of their metastatic melanoma for more than 10 years from this treatment.
With its potential to induce long-lasting remissions and its adaptability to various types of cancers, TIL therapy offers hope for patients battling advanced melanoma and other solid tumors.
What is the treatment process?
- The TIL therapy process begins with the surgical removal of a tumor from the patient's body.
- The tumor is then sent to a specialized laboratory, where the tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are extracted from the tumor.
- The TILs are multiplied into billions of cells through a process known as in vitro expansion and are enhanced to boost their natural abilities to eliminate cancer. This step produces a new generation of TILs that are strong, plentiful, and efficient in targeting and eliminating cancer cells. The new TILs are frozen and ready to be given to the patient.
- The patient is admitted to the hospital and receives a short but intensive chemotherapy treatment to eliminate regulatory cells – cells that suppress the body’s immune response.
- Then the boosted, lab-grown TILs are returned to the patient through an infusion. At this point, the only TILs in the patient’s body are their own supercharged, cancer-fighting cells.
- The patient then receives between one and six doses of interleukin-2, a drug that gives an extra boost to the body’s immune system, further enhancing the treatment.
- The patient’s new TILs regenerate and form lasting memory cells, which continuously look for and attack new cancer cells.
- After only a few days, the patient goes home and is monitored for any side effects and the body’s response to the treatment.
Effectiveness and potential benefits
While TIL therapy is in the final stages of clinical investigation for advanced melanoma, research findings published in leading peer-reviewed medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, have shown that TIL therapy not only prolongs the lives of those with advanced melanoma, but also allows some to have complete responses, even after failing the previous standard-of-care immunotherapy.
Challenges and considerations
While TIL therapy holds immense promise, it is still an emerging field. The therapy's high complexity and the need for specialized laboratory facilities can make it challenging to implement. The expertise of the team at MD Anderson at Cooper is the reason we are able to deliver this complex, advanced treatment through clinical trials.
What types of cancers can be treated with TIL therapy?
TIL therapy is currently being used in clinical trials for patients with advanced melanoma and lung, head and neck, and cervical cancers.
MD Anderson at Cooper has several clinical trials open for TIL therapy treatment.
Our expert Cancer Research Institute team evaluates each patient who is interested and eligible to take part in our clinical trials. Our research nurses and professionals are integral members of our cancer care team, and they work closely with patients throughout their entire cancer journey.
TIL therapy is just one example of the groundbreaking treatment options being studied at MD Anderson at Cooper that hold promise for improving patient outcomes.
For more information about our cancer clinical trials, including TIL trials, click here.