By Mark Abrams

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A top cancer researcher who is president-elect of the Philadelphia-based American Association of Cancer Research says there’s room for optimism in the fight against the many forms of the disease.

Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee is the deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and was part of a recent cancer forum in Philadelphia.

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Jaffee says researchers are making progress in developing agents to activate a person’s immune system to help fight cancer.

In particular, she says more trials and tools are gaining federal approval for liver cancers and colon cancers.

And, Jaffee says there’s been significant progress in beating back pancreatic cancer…

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“And, we’re already with our combinations seeing patients responding and living a year or more over what chemotherapy can do,” Jaffee says. “Not great yet! But it’s a start and we’re learning from these patients and we’re learning how to make it better.”

Jaffee, whose specialty is immunotherapy – basically getting the patient’s immune system to help fight the disease – says there’s very encouraging research going on and some of what’s happening in the lab will soon make it to clinical trials.

“We’re going to see antibodies that can accelerate the T-cell,” Jaffee says. “So, imagine taking off the brake, you’re now going at about 10 to 20 miles per hour. Now, you can accelerate with another antibody and go at 60 miles an hour. That’s what we want to the T-cell – get it from being able to treat 10 to 15 percent or patients to being able to treat 80 to 90 percent of patients.”

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Jaffee says she’s been a cancer researcher for more than 25 years and finds herself more optimistic than ever that her colleagues are closing in on breakthrough treatments which will go beyond just extending the life of a patient by months.