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Brain Cancer Vaccine Under Way (KGTV tumors are one of the fastest growing cancers today. - Jul 13 6:23 PM ET

Al Musella's Comments: (This is his personal views and are not necessarily the views of the Musella Foundation!)


Posted on: 07/13/2001

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Friday July 13 06:23 PM EDT "Brain Cancer Vaccine Under Way"

Brain Cancer Vaccine Under Way

Brain tumors are one of the fastest growing cancers today.

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It is currently the second leading cause of cancer death in children and affects a large number of adults as well.

According to the American Brain Tumor Assocation, this year more than 186,000 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with a brain tumor. That number includes 36,290 primary brain tumors (tumors that begin in the brain and tend to stay in the brain) and 150,000 metastatic tumors (tumors that began as a cancer elsewhere and spread to the brain).

Approximately 2,200 children younger than 20 years of age are diagnosed each year with tumors of the central nervous system. About 13,000 people die each year from brain tumors, which account for about 2 percent of all cancer deaths.

Treating Cancer

The biggest challenge with treating tumors, especially those in the brain which can't always be removed surgically, is that one of the first things a tumor does, is "cloak" itself from the body's immune system.

The body cannot fight what it doesn't see. Researchers know that the first key in treating or curing cancer is to help the body recognize the location and nature of a tumor, thereby allowing the immune system to attack it.

Dendritic cell immunotherapy is a vaccine-type treatment that has met with relative success in the treatment of various forms of cancer. Now, doctors are beginning to apply the technique to brain tumors. Unlike a traditional vaccine that prevents illness, dendritic cell immunotherapy is used to prevent the recurrence of a specific type of cancer.

How It Works

Like a traditional vaccine that uses the actual virus to teach the immune system to recognize and attack it, the dendritic cell immunotherapy uses a piece of the brain tumor to create a vaccine.

A small piece of the person's tumor is removed and mixed with cells from the immune system. When injected back into the patient, the immune system learns to identify the tumor, recognize it as a foreign object, and attack.

Researchers at the Maxine Dunitz Neurological Institute, part of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, studied 10 patients with brain cancer. Most had highly aggressive glioblasta multiforme tumors and life expectancies of roughly 255 days from time of diagnosis.

All patients required surgery to remove at least some of the tumor. The tumor tissue was then used in the formation of the vaccine for each individual. Patients were given three vaccinations under the skin at 2-week intervals. Roughly half showed a positive response; that is, their bodies produced cancer-fighting T-cells.

Is There A Cure?

Despite the study, only involving a very small number of patients, doctors are encouraged by the results. The median survival rate for participants was more than double that of patients in a control group. Because some patients are still alive, that figure seems destined to improve even further.

Doctors stress that the vaccine is only a first step in the fight against this particularly lethal kind of brain tumor.

Cancer causes several defects in the immune system of a patient; some of which are not addressed by the immunotherapy.

But researchers are confident that this treatment may well constitute the first step in the road to a cure.

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