Medicine can now prevent a host of diseases with a mere shot of vaccine. Polio and smallpox are almost non-existent, and mumps and chicken pox are rarely seen nowadays. And for the first time, the prospect of eradicating a specific cancer through vaccination is possible. The newly approved human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is designed to curb the 230,000 worldwide deaths due to cervical cancer, which is caused solely by HPV. And the hepatitis B virus, responsible for 70 percent of all liver cancer deaths, is also preventable with a vaccine.
Cancer researchers are working on the next era of vaccines designed to treat cancer that has already developed. These vaccines don't rev up the human immune system to attack an invading microbe, but prime the system to go after a unique biological tag found only on tumor cells.
For example, brain cancer researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center are testing an experimental vaccine that homes to a protein studding the surface of glioblastoma cancer cells. It tricks the body into thinking this protein is foreign and infectious, which alerts killer immune cells. The same kind of strategy is producing very promising results in clinical trials at M. D. Anderson of vaccines for advanced myeloid leukemia as well as other forms of leukemia, aggressive lymphoma and melanoma.
Because of the preliminary nature of therapeutic cancer vaccines - none has yet been approved for use anywhere in the world - researchers can only describe their findings as "promising." But their hope in the therapy is clear. In fact, several M. D. Anderson vaccine clinical trials have shown strong anti-tumor activity and one produced the first clinical demonstration that a vaccine could produce complete molecular remission - meaning, no biological evidence of cancer remained in some treated patients.
This wealth of cancer vaccine research at M. D. Anderson - possibly the most varied and advanced
Contact: Scott Merville
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center