Adoptive T-cell transfer study opens for head and neck cancer patients

March 05, 2018

Adoptive T-cell transfer therapy is emerging as one of the most effective treatments to date for people with advanced melanoma. Now this treatment is available to patients with advanced or recurrent head and neck cancers through a clinical trial at Providence Cancer Institute.

In this therapy, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) – the cancer-fighting T-cells found in tumors – are extracted from a patient’s own tumor and multiplied as much as a trillion-fold in the lab. This expanded army of TILs is then re-infused back into the patient to increase the power of the immune system to fight the cancer. As part of this study, patients also receive interleukin-2.

Providence Cancer Institute is one of only six sites in the country, and the only site west of the Mississippi, offering this important study. “It’s a very exciting time for us, and for our patients, because now they have access to a highly promising modality that isn’t available in many other places in the world,” says R. Bryan Bell, M.D., DDS, FACS, medical director of the Providence Head and Neck Cancer Program.

View the study information here.

Eric Tran advances T-cell therapy at Providence

In 2017, Providence Cancer Institute recruited Eric Tran, Ph.D., a highly sought scientist specializing in T-cell transfer therapy, to join the Antitumor T-cell Response Laboratory at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute. Prior to joining the Providence team, Dr. Tran was a postdoctoral research fellow in the National Cancer Institute laboratory of Steven Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., the scientist who pioneered the T-cell transfer technology.

Beyond his work with TILs, Dr. Tran is now using sophisticated molecular tools to identify the specific neoantigens that T cells respond to, so that those particular T cells can be engineered to recognize the new antigen and then be infused back into patients. “This will be the next generation of the current clinical trial,” says Dr. Bell, “and we’re very excited about that.”

Read more about Dr. Tran’s work in the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute 2016 Annual Report.

Moral oral, head and neck cancer studies

Providence Cancer Institute currently has 12 studies open specifically for patients with oral, head and neck cancers, in addition to dozens of studies for multiple tumor types, many of which are open to people with oral, head and neck cancers.

To refer patients to any of these studies, call Providence Cancer Institute’s Clinical Research office at 503-215-2614 or visit