Using Cancer to Kill Cancer
Measles, mumps and even the flu, they're 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.Cancer flies under the immune system's radar in many cases remaining hidden until it's too late. Now a personalized vaccine developed in-part by Doctor David Avigan is helping fight the potential killer."The goal of the vaccine is to see whether one can really re-educate our immune system to see cancer cells as foreign, "Dr. David Avigan, Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant and Hematologic Malignancy Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, explained.Still in the early stages of development, the vaccine fuses a patient's tumor cells with immune-stimulating dendritic cells. The new cells are then injected back into patients."What we saw was that there we very strong immune responses that were generated in these patients, against their own tumor cells," Dr. Avigan said.In a phase one trial of the vaccine 66 percent of patients with advanced multiple myeloma stabilized for a period of time. In other studies, Doctor Avigan says some patients saw their disease regress. He also hopes to use the vaccine as a way to prevent recurrence.Howard Bleich found out he had acute leukemia two years ago. After four rounds of chemo he was given the vaccine."The last time they checked me I had not relapsed," Howard said.Howard's wife wasn't sure he'd live to see their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They’ve just celebrated their twenty-sixth.Doctor Avigan says the vaccine could one day prove to be an effective cancer treatment that spares patients from the harsh side effects of chemotherapy. Phase two trials combining the vaccine with other medications are underway for acute leukemia, multiple myeloma, kidney cancer and breast cancer.All the trials are currently enrolling.