Zurbrugg's New Cancer Center Is Dedicated

Posted: May 14, 1986

Like most conflicts, the war against cancer requires both weapons and support systems. Last week, Zurbrugg Memorial Hospital dedicated a new unit at its Rancocas Valley Division that belongs in the second category and learned some good news about a development in the first.

The unit dedicated Friday is a 35-bed cancer center on the hospital's fifth floor. The hospital administration hopes to improve treatment by consolidating in a single area the patients, staff and resources in the battle against cancer.

Also on Friday, nearly 100 members of the hospital staff and guests heard about the latest advances in fighting cancer by increasing the victim's own system of natural immunity.

The new treatment, called adoptive immunotherapy, was discussed at a post- dedication luncheon by Alfred Chang, a senior investigator in the surgery branch of the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.

Chang, a onetime Cherry Hill resident while on the staff of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, said that the new system was more selective in that it works on affected areas and that it had fewer side effects than many forms of radiation and chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy encourages the body's own antigens (disease-fighting mechanisms) to destroy cancerous cells, Chang explained. Not only had the therapy eliminated lung and liver tumors in laboratory mice, he said, but it also had reduced skin cancers in humans.

The therapy was developed at the National Cancer Institute after molecular biology studies of recombinant DNA detected a gene that seemed to stimulate the body's own immune system.

A technique to clone or copy the gene, known as Interleuken-2 (IL-2), was developed in Japan, Chang said.

IL-2 did not itself prove effective in killing cancerous cells, Chang said, but combined with the body's own antigenic lymphocytes, a form of white blood cell that is active in fighting infectious diseases. IL-2 encouraged the lymphocytes to proliferate and increase their efficiency in "lysing" or killing cancerous cells.

The combination IL-2 and so-called "LAKs," lymphotic activated killer cells, was found to have a devastating effect on tumors developed in the lungs and livers of mice.

"Forty percent of the animals with LAK and IL-2 lived long term and were cured of their hepatic (liver) tumors," Chang said.

In 1984, the National Cancer Institute began using the combination IL-2 and LAK in the treatment of melanoma, a form of human skin cancer. Blood from the patient was extracted through one intravenous tube, the lymphocytes separated and placed in a culture with IL-2, and then some days later returned to the patient's circulatory system through another IV tube. The result was a ''complete regression" of the melanoma.

The treatment has been used on other cancer patients, Chang said, but noted that the institute in Washington only had immunotherapy facilities for treating three patients at a time.

It will be a while before immunotherapy comes to the new Zurbrugg center but, according to hospital vice president Charles Gill, the center increases the hospital's effiency in treating cancer patients by "pulling things together and making them more comprehensive."

In addition to permitting the hospital to place all cancer patients in a single area with nurses especially trained their care, the new center features a library of cancer literature and a room for providing chemotherapy for outpatients.

The new center took eight months to complete, Gill said.

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