New Zealand's Cancer Immunotherapy Recognised as Biggest Scientific Breakthrough 2013

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By Reissa Su | January 9, 2014 4:55 PM EST

A research institute in Wellington, New Zealand wins international praise after cancer immunotherapy was recently named the world's biggest scientific breakthrough in 2013. Science, a top medical journal selected cancer immunotherapy and acknowledged the efforts of Wellington's Malaghan Institute for focusing on the treatment for 20 years.


Pink balloons are displayed in front of an artificial waterfall during the "Pink Ribbon" breast cancer awareness campaign at Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul October 5, 2011. (Reuters)

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Graham Le Gros, the research institute director, said that cancer immunotherapy is the most promising treatment. The treatment works by using the body's immune system to fight cancer cells instead of attacking the tumour.

According to the Science journal, cancer immunotherapy has passed the test with clinical trials showing positive results. Its potential in patients has convinced even the sceptics of cancer treatment.

The journal reported that doctors used to losing patients with advanced stages of cancer, the results of clinical trials bring hope they couldn't have imagined years ago. For decades, scientists have always thought that using the immune system was possible but the process remained difficult.

In 2013, two techniques in immunotherapy have been seeing progress. One technique used antibodies to release a brake on T cells while giving them the power to fight tumours. Another technique involved changing a patients T cells via gene modification to turn them into target tumour cells.

Mr Le Gros said current therapies against cancer and immunotherapies may lead to a cure. He added that clinical trials abroad have some dramatic breakthroughs. Wellington's research institute can do the same thing using Kiwi ingenuity.

Chemotherapy in cancer patients works by attacking tumours. The result may kill 99 per cent of tumours but the remaining 1 per cent could become resistant to drugs. Health experts say cancer can recur because of this.

In contrast to chemotherapy, Mr Le Gros explained that immunotherapy enables the immune system to send cells to check the body constantly for any sign of invaders. The advantage of this kind of treatment is it targets every last cell.

Researchers at Malaghan Institute in New Zealand are preparing for a $4.5 million immunotherapy trial on melanoma on the first human patients. A drug will be injected to patients to stimulate the T cells to kill tumour cells. It is a step closer to being manufactured with the support of Callaghan Innovation, University of Auckland and Cancer Trials New Zealand. 

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Pink balloons are displayed in front of an artificial waterfall during the "Pink Ribbon" breast cancer awareness campaign at Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul October 5, 2011. (Reuters)
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