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Wednesday, 20 October, 1999, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Prostate cancer vaccine success
The vaccine was given like a flu jab
A vaccine developed using a genetically-engineered virus has successfully been used to attack prostate cancer cells in humans for the first time, scientists in America have announced.

Dr Jonathan Simons, associate professor of oncology and urology at Johns Hopkins Oncology Centre in Baltimore, Maryland, led the study.

"We were astounded to find that every part of the immune system was alerted and turned on," he said.

"Using gene therapy, we re-educated the immune system to recognise prostate cancer cells as a potential infection and attack."

Cell work

The virus was used in a vaccine that was given to 11 patients whose cancers had continued to grow even after their prostate glands were removed.

Scientists took cancer cells from the patients' own prostate tumours during surgery and grew them in the laboratory.

They then used a virus to carry an additional gene - which causes the immune system to attack specific tumours - into the DNA of the cancer cells.

These cells were then irradiated to stop them growing and injected into the patients' thighs in the hope they would prime the immune system to destroy similar tumour cells.

Within four weeks, the researchers saw signs that anti-cancer immune cells were circulating in the blood stream.

"Such a complete and thorough activation of the immune system against prostate cancer has never before been seen," Dr Simons said.


However, the study could not yet confirm if the vaccine could improve survival chances, only that the patient's defence systems were activated.

It did appear to offer a new approach to treatment.

"Many of our conventional treatments do not kill metastatic (spreading) cells efficiently," Dr Simons said.

"Genetically-engineered vaccines like this could make a real difference when used as an additional therapy to 'mop up' microscopic cancer cells left behind following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy."

Patients receiving the vaccine did not need to be hospitalised, and the only side effects they suffered were some flu-like symptoms and several days of redness and itching where the injection was given.

Dr Caetano Reis e Sousa of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said: "Our immune systems are a very powerful weapon for fighting disease and it has long been a goal of cancer researchers to harness this power and turn it against cancer cells, which normally do not elicit effective immune responses.

"The advantage of using the immune system to attack cancer cells is that it is able to hunt out cancer cells that might have spread to other parts of the body and that cannot be removed surgically."

The researchers, who published their work in the journal Cancer, are now conducting larger trials.

See also:

23 Jun 99 | Health
Cervical cancer vaccine on test
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