Thursday, January 5, 2012

Aggressive brain tumour can be treated with vaccine

Vaccines are normally used to protect us from infectious diseases, but they are getting increasingly popular for use in cancer patients. A novel treatment, currently undergoing clinical trials, aims at targeting stem cells of the brain, which are the culprits of an aggressive form of brain cancer. A better therapy for the disease, which goes by the name glioblastoma, is much needed, as most patients die shortly after diagnosis.

Brain stem cells
According to the researchers, their novel vaccine specifically targets molecules only found on the surface of cells with stem cell-like properties, which are the driving force behind the overgrowth leading to tumour formation. Conventional therapy predominantly kills the 'offspring', and not their 'parents', which means additional means are necessary to improve the condition of glioblastoma patients. Though not all patients suffer from overactive stem cells, current treatment does not enable us to target them.

The compound which the scientists developed contains antigens that only attach to the stem cells that cause the problems in glioblastoma. Then, the body's own immune system is able to recognize the malicious cells, and activates highly specialized immune cells to kill them. Normally vaccines are only used to train the immune system to recognize viruses and microbes, but by careful design, we do not have to limit ourselves to matter that is foreign to our body.

Patients were given the standard regimen of treatment, which consists of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Some of them were also given the vaccine. After comparing the results, the scientists noted that those who received the vaccine treatment had a much higher survival rate. Everyone survived the first year after follow-up started, and after two years, 80 percent of the participants were found to be alive. In contrast, the control group showed survival rates of 61 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

The vaccine treatment proves to be an effective addition to the current range of treatment. However, larger studies are needed to confirm the results, and are already underway. It is not the first time a vaccine is developed for cancer. In previous studies, scientists developed a vaccine for breast and pancreatic cancer. It is likely we will see more of them in the future, as the body has a highly effective system of killing cells, that is just waiting to be activated by us.
One does not need training to see the tumour in this patient's brain.

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