T-Cell Therapy Gives Dad Battling Uveal Melanoma New Hope

3 min read  |  May 14, 2024  | 

A routine visit to check his vision left Michael Smith, a father of five, in shock when he learned he had cancer.

“Because I’d never heard of it before. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of it,” Smith said.

Smith had uveal melanoma, a rare form of eye cancer says Dr. Jose Lutzky, M.D., a medical oncologist specializing in advanced skin cancers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Uveal melanoma is actually a rare disease. It’s only 4% of all melanomas, but it’s the most common cancer of the eye,” Dr. Lutzky said. “It’s a difficult disease to treat. It tends to spread to the liver first rather than to areas closer to the eye. We think that is because the liver has a very immune-suppressive environment, so the cells have an easier time growing in that environment.”

When Smith’s cancer spread to his liver, Dr. Lutzky suggested a new treatment as part of a clinical trial.

Engineered T-cell receptor therapy

There are multiple clinical trials underway at Sylvester to treat patients with melanoma. Smith received engineered T-cell receptor therapy, which so far, is showing promising results.

“We take the T cells from the circulation, from the peripheral blood, and modify them in the lab in a way that they target some of the antigens that are in the tumor. Almost immediately, some of the palpable tumors on his skin started to shrink,” said Dr. Lutzky.

“Within five days I couldn’t feel it no more. It was, that lump’s gone,” Smith said.

Sylvester’s National Cancer Institute’s designation allows access to a number of clinical trials for patients with melanoma.

“The other trial we’re doing now is looking for different proteins in the tumor cell that are restricted by different types of immune systems so that we can expand the group of patients that can have these therapies,” Dr. Lutzky said.

“My daughter, for her soccer game, she wore a ribbon for cancer. They (my family) have helped a lot,” said Smith.

He has a message of hope during Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month in May.

“This last treatment, like I say, it’s really getting more hope that I have more time or will actually get rid of the cancer,” Smith said.

Video transcript compiled by Janna Ross for ‘Focusing on You: Innovations in Modern Medicine,’ a series of health care-related stories airing regularly on WPLG Local 10.  For more stories like this one, visit UHealth’s YouTube channel.

Tags: Dr. Jose Lutzky, eye cancer, focusing on you, medical oncologist, medical oncology, ocular melanoma, T-cell therapy, uveal melanoma

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