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An Advance in Cancer Immunotherapy

Posted: November 28, 2010 at 12:21 am

Manipulating the immune system to destroy specific targets in the body is an approach that shows great promise. Targets involved in aging include senescent cells, cancerous cells, and aggregates such as amyloids that become harmful as they build up over time. An added bonus to the increasing importance of immune therapies in the research community is that it will force researchers to spend more time on establishing ways to reverse the decline of the immune system with age. The people who will most benefit from immune therapies are the old - but their immune systems need to be functioning well in order to obtain the best results.

Here is an example of present work on training the immune system to destroy cancer. These are still the opening years of this field of research, but the benefits are evident even now, while the therapies are comparatively crude and unrefined.

A new process for creating a personalized vaccine may become a crucial tool in helping patients with colorectal cancer develop an immune response against their own tumors. ... Basically, we've worked out a way to use dendritic cells, which initiate immune responses, to induce an antitumor response. ... The new research grew dendritic cells from a sample of a patient's blood, mixed them with proteins from the patient's tumor, and then injected the mixture into the patient as a vaccine. The vaccine then stimulated an anti-tumor response from T-cells, a kind of white blood cell that protects the body from disease.


In the study, Barth first operated on 26 patients to remove tumors that had spread from the colon to the liver. While some of these patients would be expected to be cured with surgery alone, most of them would eventually die from tiny metastases that were undetectable at the time the tumors were removed from the liver. The DC vaccine treatment was given one month after surgery. The results were that T-cell immune responses were induced against the patient's own tumor in more than 60% of the patients. The patients were followed for a minimum of 5.5 years.; Five years after their vaccine treatment, 63% of the patients who developed an immune response against their own tumor were alive and tumor-free. In contrast, just 18% of the patients who did not develop an immune response against their own tumor were alive and tumor-free.

It'll be a couple of decades before people of my generation reach the prime years for developing cancer. Progress of this sort today, when we are still at the very start of the age of biotechnology, is one of the reasons why I'm not overly concerned about the cancer in my future. The impact on my personal finances will no doubt be painful at the time - but that can be planned for, and I'll take it over the other options.

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