Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2004

Hope for leukaemia vaccine

Chemotherapy syringe
Currently, chemotherapy is the best hope for leukaemia patients

Successful tests in mice could herald a vaccine treatment for people with a form of leukaemia.

Half the mice treated by experts at King's College Hospital London with an experimental jab did not suffer relapses of the disease.

The extension to their lives was roughly equivalent to 25 extra years in humans.

It is not yet known whether the same thing would happen in humans - or tackle other leukaemia types.

The idea behind cancer "vaccines" is not necessarily to prevent cancer in the first place, but to programme the immune system to hunt down cancer cells and destroy them after the patient has been diagnosed.

In this case, the vaccine involved fragments of genetic material from a faulty gene inside cancer cells, designed to train the immune cells to recognise these as foreign invaders and launch an attack.

Blood cancer

Leukaemia is a name for various cancers which affect the white cells of the blood.

This example of a targeted therapy...may provide us with an alternative therapy, which if translated to humans, will improve quality of life and survival rates for leukaemia patients
Dr Rose Ann Padua, King's College London

The London research team, led by Dr Rose Ann Padua, focused on a form called acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL), a distinct type of acute myeloid leukaemia.

APL is curable in more than three quarters of cases using modern chemotherapy.

When the DNA vaccine was used in mice with a disease that closely matched APL, their survival was improved.

However, when this was combined with chemotherapy, survival rates shot up.

In half the mice, expected lifespans were extended by 300 days - the equivalent of 25 years in human terms.

Survival hope

Dr Padua said: "Currently, despite a major improvement in the survival of APL patients, a cure is still not achieved in all patients.

"The DNA based vaccine has been proved to induce protective immunity.

"This example of a targeted therapy in an APL animal model may provide us with an alternative therapy, which if translated to humans, will improve quality of life and survival rates for leukaemia patients."

Approximately 6,700 cases of leukaemia are diagnosed each year - acute myeloid is one of the two major types of the disease.



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