A new vaccination strategy targeting telomerase, one of the enzymes responsible for making cancer cells immortal, has been tested by Professor Trond Buanes on patients with pancreatic cancer at Ullevaal University Hospital. The vaccine was developed by a research team headed by Professor Gustav Gaudernack at the Norwegian Radium Hospital.
Initiated in September 2000, the ongoing study comprises 31 patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer who have been treated with the vaccine. With the optimal dose, the majority of the patients have experienced an immune response to the vaccine. There is a trend for these patients to live longer than those who failed to respond, and for the patients who received a higher dose to live longer than those who received the lower dose. Gaudernack warns that since there was little evidence of tumour reduction, this is not a cure but rather a means of stabilising the cancer.
The vaccine has been designed to encourage the immune system to respond to telomerase produced by cancer cells. Found in virtually all types of cancer, this target is responsible for giving cancer cells an unlimited capacity to divide. The immunologists' aim is to stimulate the patient's own immune system to recognise this protein and destroy the cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone. There are still some questions related to the long-term safety of the vaccine.
Gaudernack emphasises the need to verify these results by controlled studies on larger groups of patients.
These research efforts are supported by the Norwegian Cancer Society and the Norwegian biotech company GemVax.
The above story is based on materials provided by Norwegian Cancer Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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