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Monday, June 1, 1998 Published at 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK


A vaccine for blood cancer?

The first time a blood cancer vaccine has reached clinical trials

Clinical trials are to start on a vaccine which could help blood cancer sufferers beat the disease.

The vaccine, developed by a research team from Southampton University, works by kick starting the body's immune system to fight lymphoma, a cancer of the immune cells in the blood.

The lymphoma cells are not normally identified by the body's immune system, and so can multiply unchecked.

But, using the new technique, scientists are able to remove a sample of tumour cells from a patient, and isolate the genetic material which identifies the cells as foreign.

This material is then multiplied in the test tube and combined with part of the toxin which causes tetanus.

It is then re-injected into the patient, and is quickly identified as a powerful threat by the immune system, which produces huge numbers of cells to attack and kill the invaders.

Head of the research team Professor Freda Stevenson said: "In theory tumour cells should be killed by the immune system because it is programmed to destroy anything which is not a normal, healthy cell.

Cells are 'cunning'

"However tumour cells are cunning. Though clearly labelled, they have developed ways of switching off the immune system to their presence, thwarting any possible attack.

"Our vaccine puts the immune system back on the scent."

Professor Stephenson plans to launch a 14-patient trial of the new vaccine within six months.

She believes the treatment will be without side effects, and will offer the patient immunity against their cancer for life.

Mop up cells

"We will start with patients in their first remission following treatment for low grade follicular lymphoma.

"It is fairly easy to induce remission in these patients and then our vaccine will be used to mop up any cells which are left over.

"We would hope to see an immune response quite early, but it will be a long time before we know the final outcome."

It is hoped that the treatment can be refined and extended to other cancers of the blood - including myeloma and myeloid leukaemia.

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