Using cancer to fight cancer: The new vaccine

Measles, mumps and the flu, these are just a few of the ailments that may come to mind when you think about vaccines. But now a new therapeutic vaccine 15 years in the making could make cancer kill itself.

In many cases cancer flies under the immune system’s radar, remaining hidden until it’s too late. A new personalized vaccine developed in-part by Dr. David Avigan is helping fight the disease.

Dr. David Avigan, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says "The goal of the vaccine is to see whether one can really re-educate our immune system to see cancer cells as foreign."

The vaccine is still in the early stages of development. It fuses the patient’s tumor cells with immune-stimulating Dendritic cells, which are then injected back into the patient’s system.

The processes accomplishes what Avigan says are “very strong immune responses that were generated in these patients, against their own tumor cells."

In a phase one trial, sixty-six percent of patients with Advanced Multiple Myeloma were stabilized for a period of the time. In other studies, Dr. Avigan says some patients saw their disease regress. He hopes to use the vaccine as a way to prevent cancer’s recurrence.

Howard Bleich found out he had Acute Leukemia two years ago. After four rounds of chemotherapy he received the vaccine, “the last time they checked me I had not relapsed.” Bleich’s wife was not sure he would live to see their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. After recently celebrating their twenty-sixth anniversary, the couple says they are very happy.

Dr. Avigan says the vaccine could one day prove to be an effective cancer treatment that could spare patients from the harsh side effects of chemotherapy. Phase two trials involving the combination of the vaccine with other medications are underway for Acute Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, Kidney Cancer and Breast Cancer.


REPORT: MB # 3518

BACKGROUND: Cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases. Although there are many kinds of cancer, all cancers start because abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and death. Cancer cells often travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow and form new tumors. This happens when the cancer cells get into the body's bloodstream or lymph vessels. Over time, the tumors replace normal tissue. The process of cancer spreading is called metastasis.
No matter where a cancer may spread, it's always named for the place where it started. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the liver is called metastatic breast cancer, not liver cancer. Likewise, prostate cancer that has spread to the bone is called metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer. Different types of cancer can behave very differently. For instance, lung cancer and skin cancer are very different diseases. They grow at different rates and respond to different treatments. This is why people with cancer need treatment that is aimed at their kind of cancer. (Source: American Cancer Society)
VACCINATION NATION : Dr. David Avigan from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has developed a personalized vaccine to fight cancer. The goal of the vaccine is to see whether a cancer patient can re-educate their immune system to see cancer cells as foreign, then go after them, attack them, and then kill off the disease. The vaccine fuses a patient's tumor cells with immune-stimulating dendritic cells. The new cells are then injected back into patients in order to reintroduce the entire tumor cell to the immune system so it will see it and go after it.

"We know that cancer has certain unique properties that are recognizable by the patient's own immune system and therefore are potential targets to fight against the disease. But we also know that cancer can find ways to avoid being recognized by the immune system," David Avigan, MD, Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant and Hematologic Malignancy Program at Beth Israel Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "The goal of a cancer vaccine is to see whether we can re-educate the immune system to recognize cancer cells as foreign, and attack them in order to eliminate the disease." (Source: Ivanhoe Interview with Dr. David Avigan)

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Bonnie Prescott
Sr. Science Writer, Communications
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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