Vaccine could halt the spread of metastatic cancer

Published: Mar. 4, 2019 at 5:31 PM EST
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Researchers at the University of California San Diego Health and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology are working on a cancer vaccine that’s specific for each patient.

It’s specifically created according to a patient’s own cancer mutations and immune system. It’s a clinical trial that is only for people with metastatic cancer.

Tamara Strauss can’t wait to take her therapy dog, Luna, back for hospital visits. She has to wait because she’s in the cancer vaccine trial at UC San Diego Health. She is patient No. 1.

“Having cancer, I mean anything that presents itself as a solution or a cure, you’re going to jump on the bandwagon," Tamara said.

Tamara beat pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer twice. Now, it’s back, and it's Stage 4.

Her doctors say everyone’s cancer and immune system are different, so they are treating them differently.

“If we were going to think about curing patients with metastatic disease, with advanced cancer, then we had to design therapies that were really individual,” said Dr. Ezra Cohen, associate director of translational science in the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health.

The team tested Tamara’s tumor and identified neoantigens, or mutations her immune system responds to. They cultured the neoantigens with Tamara’s T-cells and gave her a series of three vaccines.

Cohen said they worried the T-cells would reach the tumor and be deactivated. So, they added Keytruda.

“What the Keytruda does is that, essentially, it keeps those T-cells from falling asleep once they get to the tumor, and so hopefully, once that happens, those T-cells destroy the cancer,” Cohen said.

It’s only been four months since Tamara began the trial, but a mid-treatment CT scan was promising.

Tamara’s parents donated $1 million to fund this trial, hoping to help her. They’ve already lost another daughter to cancer.

The trial will enroll 10 patients and only has three now. Doctors are looking for patients with any kind of slow-growing metastatic cancer.




REPORT: MB #4546

BACKGROUND: Metastatic cancer is another name for stage 4 cancer. This means that the cancer has spread to other tissues, organs and lymph nodes. When the cancer spreads like this, it is called metastasis. The metastatic cancer keeps the name of its primary cancer even though it might have spread; for example, if lung cancer spreads to the brain, it is just called metastatic lung cancer not brain cancer. Cancer spreads by going to the tissue first, and then it moves to the lymph nodes or blood vessels. The blood vessels offer access to organs in the body. When the cancer cells start to grow in the tissue, they grow their own blood vessels to create their own blood supply and get bigger. Symptoms include headaches, seizures, shortness of breath and dizziness.


TREATMENTS: Metastasis has a few treatments for patients. Age, where the cancer started, and where it has spread are all factors to determine the type of treatment that can be given. Patients can either go through chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or target therapy or they can try go through surgery or radiation therapy to treat that certain section. The treatment might not be a cure to end the metastasis, but it can slow down the growth of the cancer and reduce the symptoms. Depending on the cancer, patients can live months or even years after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Vaccines are a form of immunotherapy. They are usually given during the beginning stages, but that is changing. In a new study, there are vaccines that can be used to help not only stop the growth of the cancer, but it can also help prevent it from coming back and remove any leftover cancer cells from other treatments. There are four types of cancer vaccines: antigen, whole cell, DNA and dendritic cell. Antigen helps stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer by using the protein antigen to help. Whole cell uses a patient's own cancer cells to treat. DNA vaccines take the DNA from the cancer cells and put them into cells of the immune system to help them identify and eliminate other cancer cells. Dendritic cells are grown in a lab and used to help strengthen the immune system to get rid of the cancer that is in the system. There are many clinical trials to learn more about what is going on.