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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 04:14 GMT
Vaccine trial offers cancer hope
Chemotherapy syringe
Chemotherapy has unpleasant side effects
A genetically-engineered vaccine is being used in a trial which may offer new hope to cancer patients.

Patients are being given the vaccine to trigger the body's own defences into fighting the disease.

All the patients involved in the trial have low-grade lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, for which there is currently no permanent cure.

There are about 3,000 new cases of low-grade lymphoma each year.

Our hope for the vaccine is at least a much longer life extension and, at best, a cure

Professor Robert Hawkins
While intensive chemotherapy can cure the high-grade form of the disease, it can only bring about remission in low-grade lymphoma.

The study is being led by Professor Robert Hawkins, director of medical oncology at Christie Hospital, Manchester, together with scientists at Southampton University.

"Chemotherapy can keep the disease at bay for several years but it almost always recurs and the remissions become shorter in duration," Prof Hawkins said.

"Chemotherapy has unpleasant side effects in that patients feel ill, normal tissue can be affected and repeated sessions may be harder to withstand.

"Our hope for the vaccine is at least a much longer life extension and, at best, a cure.

"Because it may help the body's immune system fight the cancer, there shouldn't be any side effects and it would therefore be a much kinder treatment."

Detecting cancer protein

About 10 patients at Christie Hospital and in Southampton are taking part in the trial, and will receive six vaccinations during a four-month period.

They are all in remission following chemotherapy, and it is hoped the vaccine will prompt their immune systems to destroy any remaining tumour cells.

Prof Hawkins, who developed the vaccine at the Christie's Paterson Institute laboratories, said: "At this stage, it is a dose escalation trial.

"Each patient will have a different dose and we shall see which is the most effective.

"The only way we can tell if the vaccine is working is if the patients remain free of cancer."

One way in which tumours hid from the body's defence system was by expressing a protein which disguises cancer cells.

The aim of the study was to "teach" the vaccine to recognise the cancer protein whenever it occurred, and destroy it.

"Development of the vaccine has been particularly difficult because the proteins expressed by low-grade lymphatic tumours are unique both to individual patients and to the tumours, so each vaccine has to be tailor-made to the patient," Prof Hawkins said.

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See also:

02 Jan 01 | Health
Plans to speed up cancer care
10 Jul 00 | Health
Scientists discover cancer gene
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Leukaemias and lymphomas
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