Each year, more than 76,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, 9,000 die. Once its spread, this type of cancer is extremely difficult to treat. Now, researchers say a new therapy is helping them shock away some of the most stubborn tumors.
With 20 acres of grapes to grow, animals to feed, and grass to cut, Martin Bajuk is a busy man. “There are always things to do,” Martin said.
However, a recent diagnosis of melanoma threatened to slow down this active 77-year-old. “I noticed sort of like a wart” Martin explained.
He had three surgeries, but the cancer spread and Martin was running out of options.
“It’s a frustrating cancer to treat, and it’s also very resistant,” Adil Daud, MD, Medical Oncologist, University of California, San Francisco said.
Dr. Daud is studying electroporation for advanced melanoma. He injects a gene–called IL12 into the tumor and uses a device to deliver electricity. The charge opens pores in the tumor so it can absorb the IL12. Then, the body’s immune system sends special cells to destroy the cancer.
“Then, once the immune system has done that, there’s what’s known as memory cells, and so those memory cells circulate around and if they see other melanoma, they will get rid of that too,” Dr. Daud explained.
In a trial, eight of nine patients saw all or most of their tumors shrink. None reported side effects. One downside—the treatment is painful. Just ask Martin.
“It’s over 1200 volts of electricity. That is just unbearable,” Martin said. However, the pain lasts for just a second and with his cancer in check, Martin can focus on what he loves most, working in the outdoors.
The procedure is given three times over eight days. Each shock lasts only a few milliseconds. Researchers say this therapy would likely be combined with others to see maximum benefits.