Brain cancers are notoriously tough to treat. Because of the blood-brain barrier, many chemical attacks on brain tumors just can’t get there in force. The existing primary defenses against a brain tumor are surgery and radiation. Removing every last cancer cell or killing them all with radiation is at best a hit-and-miss solution. Fewer than 10% of those who are afflicted with gliomas, the most aggressive brain cancers, live five years.
Therefore, news from scientists at the University of Leuven in Belgium working with mice and using cancer vaccines against gliomas is encouraging, if not remarkable.
Taking a page from traditional vaccine procedures, researchers took cancer cells from mouse brains and caused them to start dying and then incubated them with dendritic cells, which have a function in the immune system. The dying cancer cells initiated a danger signal in the dendritic cells, which were then injected back into the mice.
“We re-injected the activated dendritic cells into the mice as a therapeutic vaccine,” said Professor Patrizia Agostinis. “That vaccine alerted the immune system to the presence of dangerous cancer cells in the body. As a result, the immune system could recognize them and start attacking the brain tumor.”
The survival rates for the mice that received the vaccine as well as chemotherapy were stunning — about half were completely cured of their cancers. None of the mice given chemotherapy alone survived.
Cancer vaccines have so far had a spotty record in trials, although researchers have been trying to develop them for years. The four major areas of vaccine development include tumor cell-based vaccines, antigen vaccines, vector-based vaccines and dendritic cell vaccines.
No cancer vaccines have as yet been approved by the FDA, though they continue to be tested against brain, breast, colon, lung, kidney, prostate and pancreatic cancers. The Belgian study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, offers renewed hope for dendritic vaccines.
Agostinis says that the reality of using any treatment to kill all cancer cells and prevent any remaining malignant cells from growing or spreading again “is rarely achieved.” She adds, “That’s why the co-stimulation of the immune system is so important for cancer treatments. Scientists have to look for ways to kill cancer cells in a manner that stimulates the immune system.”
To your health and wealth.