Nov. 20, 1998 A promising new DNA-based vaccine that fights several forms of cancer has been developed by Edward Cohen, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"While this new treatment is not likely to cure the disease, we are hopeful it will extend the lives of cancer patients," says Cohen.
The vaccine will be used to treat breast, head/neck and cervical cancer and melanoma.
Cohen and his colleagues Tapas Das Gupta, professor and head of the department of surgical oncology, Barry Wenig, director of the division of head and neck surgery, and Joseph Connor, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, hope to begin Phase I human trials next year. They are actively looking for corporate sponsorship to support the trials. A patent for the technology was recently issued to the university.
The new vaccine involves the genetic modification of special types of cells to produce interleukin 2, a natural substance of the body that increases immunity to a wide variety of bacteria and viruses. The process is tailored to each patient by introducing DNA from the patient's tumor into the cells, where it can produce antigens that characterize the patient's cancer. The number of genetically modified cells is expanded and then administered to the patient as a vaccine. There are three main advantages to this treatment. First, only a small amount of tumor is needed to obtain the DNA. Second, the DNA from the tumor specifies an array of tumor antigens-this is important because tumor cells differ in their antigenic properties and by expressing as many antigens as possible, one can increase the chance of effectively treating the tumor. Third, because the DNA is placed in the cells, it becomes incorporated and is replicated as the cells divide.
"In every patient, tumor antigens are unique to that person's cancer," says Cohen. "This vaccine allows us to create specialized therapy for each patient using cells from their own body."
The therapy stimulates an immune response to the patient's tumor. Unlike chemotherapy and radiation, the treatment has been found to be non-toxic in pre-clinical studies.
One day, "this type of tumor vaccine will become an important part of the care of the cancer patient," says Cohen.
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