Saint Louis University is one of two sites in the country to study the effectiveness of an experimental, personalized vaccine in treating advanced melanoma.
The vaccine fuses a patient’s own melanoma cells with his own dendritic cells, which help the immune system to recognize cancer cells, to create a treatment designed to fight the patient’s specific melanoma.
“Generic vaccines might not work for everyone. When we fuse a patient’s own tumor cell with cells from his own immune system, we hope to create a potent vaccine to cure cancer,” says Eddy Hsueh, M.D., principal investigator of the trial and associate professor of surgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
“We know from animal studies that if you fused the tumor cells with dendritic cells, the animal’s immune system detects the presence of tumor antigens, which are signal molecules on the tumor, so it can eradicate the established tumor.”
Saint Louis University will recruit 26 volunteers who have stage III or stage IV melanoma for the trial. Those who are eligible must be at least 18 years of age and have melanoma that can’t be surgical removed in entirety.
Dr. Hsueh will extract immune cells and surgically remove tumor cells, and send them to Cleveland Clinic Foundation, where they will be prepared to be injected as a vaccine. The tumor cells are killed so they can’t create more tumors. The treatment is called a vaccine because it works by stimulating the body’s immune system to attack melanoma.
Patients will receive 11 treatments at Saint Louis University Cancer Center. Injections will be given every two weeks for the first five visits, then every month for a total of six months. Every patient will get a melanoma vaccine that is custom-created to fight the particular cancer in his or her body.
“We have very convincing data from animal studies, and this is the first step in testing how effective this type of vaccine is in humans,” Hsueh says. “In almost every mouse that was treated, cancer was cured.”
The University of Michigan is the other university participating in the research.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.
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