In 2012, Alan Taylor’s mother pushed him to get a mole on his thigh checked. He didn’t think it was anything to worry about. But three months later, the mole was scabbing and bleeding.

A biopsy revealed Alan had Stage 2 melanoma.

“I started reading everything on the internet, which is the worst thing you could ever do,” says Alan.

He was referred to The Princess Margaret where he underwent surgery to remove the mole. Doctors also checked his lymph nodes and everything came back clear.

One year later, during a scheduled CT scan, Alan received an unexpected blow: there was a tumour on his lung. It was Stage 4 melanoma.

That’s when Alan enrolled in an innovative clinical trial that uses a patient’s own T-cells to treat the cancer. These specialized cancer fighting cells are called tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes or TILs.

Dr. Marcus Butler, Clinical Head of the Immune Therapy Profiling Team at The Princess Margaret, treated Alan, the first patient in Canada on that trial. The results were positive.

“Within a few days the tumour was gone. I thought it was going to be the home run for me, so did Dr. Butler.”

But six months later, the cancer came back more aggressively. Alan was in a great deal of pain.

“It was all through my abdomen, my bowel system, all through my lymph nodes and my lungs.”

Another drug followed but it didn’t have any impact on his condition.

The team at The Princess Margaret searched for another option to give Alan the best possible outcome.

In September 2015, Alan was enrolled in one last clinical trial using a drug called Pembrolizumab. The immunotherapy treatment would boost his immune system to kill the cancer.

“The drug ate everything except three little nodules that I had in my lung,” says Alan. He had surgery in 2015 to have the remaining cancer cells removed.

Since then, all the tumours have disappeared except for one in his brain that was removed in 2016.

“I built myself a bike from different parts to celebrate one year with no more brain tumours,” says Alan, who also got a tattoo of his bike decorated with a little lady bug to honour his wife.

Alan still visits the Cancer Centre every three months for follow ups. The Princess Margaret is almost like a second home and the staff has become his extended family.

T-cells and TILs

T-cells are white blood cells that seek out and destroy tumours. T-cells found within a tumour are called tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes, or TILs. Also known as Adoptive Cell Therapy, this approach takes a patient’s TILs and re-activates them in the laboratory before giving them back to the patient. This therapy, tested in patients with metastatic melanoma, shows promise.

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