DURHAM, N.C. -- Researchers at Duke University Medical Center reported Tuesday that they have taken a significant step forward in the laboratory in demonstrating that a person's own immune system may be the best weapon they have to fight cancer.
The concoction they are testing is an unusual form of gene therapy. Its ultimate goal is to wipe out cancer cells and then keep the body protected from new cancer growth but much work remains to be completed before such an agent could be available.
The potential therapy, which already is being tested in cancer patients, just requires a sample of blood to extract white immune cells and a few cancer cells from which to distill the genetic material RNA. Mixed together, the tumor RNA produces everything the immune system needs to launch an attack on the cancer.
Laboratory proof of the cancer vaccine concept is published in the April issue of Nature Biotechnology. The research, supported by the National Institutes of Health and the CapCure Foundation, found that the vaccine stimulated an immediate and sustained assault on human cells targeted for destruction in 15 out of 18 test tube experiments.
"This is a very powerful response compared to what has been seen in other cancer vaccines," said the scientist who led the study, Eli Gilboa, research director of the Center for Genetic and Cellular Therapies at Duke. "It's a pre-clinical study that shows the vaccine can work very effectively in human cells although it has yet to be proved effective in humans," added the study's senior investigator, Smita Nair. "The vaccine is expected to be in tests for the next several years."
Usually, cancer vaccines require large loads of tumor from individual
patients from which researchers extract protein antigens, which they then use to
prime that patient's immune system. Not all cancers express the same antigens,
so this method requires analysis of the proteins each patient
Contact: Renee Twombly
Duke University Medical Center