DNA-Based Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise To Successfully Treat Melanoma In Mice

in cells, the DNA triggered an immune response.

In the study, Dr. Houghton and his research team attempted to induce an immune attack by using the gene gun to immunize the mice with either a purified form of mouse DNA, or the human DNA. When the investigators later examined the lungs of the mice, they found that the tumors were widespread in those who had received the mouse DNA and could not detect an immune response.

However, the tumors had regressed by 86 percent in the mice injected with human DNA and the researchers found a marked immune response.

In addition to inducing an immune attack in the mice, the researchers found that the human DNA also caused autoimmunity, or a condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the body's own cells. The condition, called vitiligo in humans, caused white patches to develop on the mice's otherwise dark coats of fur. Vitiligo occasionally develops in melanoma patients and may be indicative of a good outcome.

"Our goal was to induce a very controlled autoimmune response that would lead to protection against tumor spreading," said Dr. Houghton, a pioneer in the field of melanoma research and cancer vaccines. "The human DNA induced an autoimmune response that prevented the tumor from spreading, and as a side effect, destroyed pigment cells."

Although immunologists know that autoimmunity can accompany an immune response, Dr. Houghton's team found that the mechanisms involved in immune responses against tumors versus autoimmunity against normal tissues were quite different.

"This means that we may be able to vaccinate a patient against melanoma, which would induce an immune response against the tumor while, at the same time, block any autoimmunity from ever occurring," explained Dr. Houghton.

Dr. Houghton's research team plans to begin clinical trials using DNA from mice in melanoma patients some time next year.


Contact: Kelli Stauning
(212) 639-3573
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

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