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Biotech Medicine Science

New Treatment Trains Immune System To Kill Cancer 62

Al writes "A vaccine in clinical trials at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine triggers the human immune system to attack a faulty protein that's often abundant in colorectal cancer tissue and precancerous tissue. If it works as hoped, it could remove the need for repeated colonoscopies in patients at high risk for developing colorectal cancer. The vaccine has already proven safe in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. It works by spurring the body to manufacture antibodies against the abnormal version of a mucous protein called MUC1. While moderate amounts of the protein are found in the lining of normal intestines, high levels of a defective form of MUC1 are present in about half of advanced adenomas and the majority of colorectal cancers."
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New Treatment Trains Immune System To Kill Cancer

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  • Beware of the hype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scubaraf ( 1146565 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:46PM (#28846949)
    While I laud this development - we have had multiple form of immune therapy for cancer - including tumor vaccines, cancer antigen vaccines, immunostimulatory drugs, and anti-tolerance drugs for years now. There are some responders, but this field has generally been a disappointment. here's to hoping we eventually figure out how to harness this approach.
    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:54PM (#28846983)

      Well the process of science is not a perfect one. We get leads we follow them and hit dead ends. Sometimes they get really close... Sometime you need to go back a few steps and retweek it sometimes you need to go to the starting board. I am sure any break-threw we find, there will be years of research that goes on, with plenty of failures.

    • by mldi ( 1598123 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:08PM (#28847091)

      While I laud this development - we have had multiple form of immune therapy for cancer - including tumor vaccines, cancer antigen vaccines, immunostimulatory drugs, and anti-tolerance drugs for years now. There are some responders, but this field has generally been a disappointment. here's to hoping we eventually figure out how to harness this approach.

      Are we going to stop research? Research needs grants, and people don't give grants unless you publish papers showing how your research shows some promise. It may be baby steps in a thousand directions, but they all count, and it will eventually lead to something more productive.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        but they all count,

        No actually, they don't.

        Quite apart from the researchers who "accidentally" (ha!) do bad science because it's simply easier and to cater to moneyed interests such as drug companies there's been a rather large number of deliberate research scams detected and undetected over the years. This "research" is all negative.

        Research is rife with scammers because there's lots of free money available and granting agencies are sometimes easy to fool. I've seen several scientifically incompetent th

    • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:23AM (#28847967) Homepage
      anti-tolerance drugs

      Is that what religious/political extremists take to make them act the way they do?

      • by ppanon ( 16583 )
        Nope. That's the natural sources that they used to detect and isolate the drug before determining the gene sequence for large scale bacterial production.
    • by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @08:19AM (#28850151) Homepage Journal
      Yes, Immune Therapy has been tried for years, but that doesn't mean it will never amount to anything. It only means that its hard to get right. The first batch of Cancer, Immune Therapies are only now coming to market. One example is Provenge, for otherwise untreatable Prostate Cancer, by the Dendreon Corporation, its still awaiting FDA approval, in the first of its phase III trials, turned a 3 year survivial rate from around %20 to around %40, and added a mean 3 months of life. Thats hardly a cure all, but it is significant. If approved Provenge will probably be the first Cancer Immune Therapy on the market, likely leading to many of Vaccines for many other Tumors over the next ten or so years. (Drugs take that long or longer to market unfortunately).


      Cancer Treatment [] Feed @ Feed Distiller []

      • A little note about the "months of life" number reported for cancer treatments. It's usually small, like the three months you mentioned. But these treatments are also effective in only a fraction of patients, often on the order of one in four. So for the lucky person in whom the treatment works, that's actually a year of extra life.

        If we could predict which treatments would work in which patients, rather than just trying every treatment for the cancerous body part, we would be talking about more substantial

    • I underwent the experimental treatment in 1994 at the age of 17- I had Melanoma that had metastasized to my lymph nodes. Each doctor I spoke with basically said I'd be dead.

      You'll note the year- 1994- and it is now 2009. I'm celebrating my 15 year anniversary of having my 'face lift' and 7 hours of surgery to remove all of the cancer, salivary gland, neck muscles, and lymph nodes from the right half of my head. My wrestling career is over (it never got off the ground, hahaha!) but I'm alive.

      Not only that

      • Congrats! That's a great story - as an oncologist, I hang on to each one these I hear (my colleague likes to say that melanoma gives cancer a bad name). The treatment you went through almost certainly stimulated your immune system to fight your cancer. It is not clear if this is a specific effect, where you actually teach the immune system to attack your tumor, or simply a stimulatory effect that revs up the immune system to do a better job of attacking tumor cells that it already had some reaction to.

        • Oh no doubt at all- I was more throwing my support around continued testing and trials. There aint no easy cure- and anything easy and free is probably not worth it. I've got to believe nature would have already evolved a solution if it was 'easy'...

          My body also walled off all the tumors and tissue that had been affected- so I may have already been primed to attack the cells.

          Who knows.

  • Who wants.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by SEWilco ( 27983 )
    ... a Scoobie snack? Who's a good immune cell? Yes you are! You are!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      That really isn't fair. No one, whether man or his best friend, can resist a Scooby Snack(TM)
      • by linzeal ( 197905 )
        What the hell is a scooby snack? I've seen them as hard snickerdoodles, commercial cookies and dog treats. Someone call the Mystery Gang.
  • by Noodles ( 39504 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:07PM (#28847077)

    kicks ass!

  • How does one participate in the study?

    • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:59AM (#28847831)

      You go here: []

      And find the trial you are interested in, and see if you meet the requirements.

      In the case of this one: []

      Inclusion Criteria:

                  Age 40 - 70 years of age.

                              History of any of the following conditions (operative notes, endoscopy reports, and/or pathology reports must be reviewed locally to confirm that the candidate meets at least one of the following entry criteria).
                                    1. Colorectal adenoma(s) 1 cm in maximal diameter
                                    2. Colorectal adenoma(s) with villous or tubulovillous histology
                                    3. Colorectal adenoma(s) with high-grade dysplasia
                          o Willingness to avoid pregnancy or impregnate (see below) for the period of active study (1 year).
                          o ECOG performance status 0 or 1
                          o Hemoglobin greater than 95% of the lower limit of institutional normal. Platelets 100,000/L.
                          o AST (SGOT), ALT (SGPT), alkaline phosphatase, total bilirubin, BUN, creatinine 1.5x upper limit of institutional normal.
                          o ANA 1:160

      Exclusion Criteria:

              * Receiving any other investigational agents.
              * Presence of an active acute or chronic infection
              * History of allergic reactions attributed to compounds of similar chemical or biologic composition to the study agents.
              * History of heritable cancer syndrome (FAP, HNPCC)
              * Patients with a history of auto-immune disease such as, but not restricted to, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, scleroderma, or multiple sclerosis.
              * History of malignancy 5 years prior to the Registration/Randomization evaluation, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.
              * Any use of oral corticosteroids 12 weeks prior to Registration/Randomization.
              * Current or planned use of immunomodulators including: Remicade, 6-MP (Mercaptopurine), Methotrexate, cyclosporine, or other immunomodulatory drugs.
              * Pregnant women, because the teratogenic or abortifacient effects of the study agents remain incompletely defined. Breastfeeding women, because there is an unknown but potential risk for adverse events in nursing infants secondary to treatment of the mother with the study agents.

  • by ( 745855 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:47PM (#28847387) Homepage

    Oh, wait. Never mind.

  • Natural Selection (Score:3, Interesting)

    by minorgroove ( 1278070 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:59AM (#28848179)
    Won't this only provide selective pressure for those mutant cells to make another variant of Mucin1? That is exactly how aggressive cancers form in the first place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's a vaccine, so any cells presenting modified MUC1 will hopefully be killed before they proliferate very often and can learn to make yet another form of muc1. That said, the article does point out not all colon cancer cells express the mutant form, so it probably won't completely prevent colon cancer, but if it works maybe it could prevent most of them from occurring.

      Maybe the reason they're talking about vaccine instead of treatment is because they do find that if they target the mutant form, there is

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by nietsch ( 112711 )

      Yes is does provide selective pressure, just like the immune system does by itself. The pressure is against overexpressing MUC1. Since it is presented as a vaccine, not a therapy, the thinking is that there are no cells yet that overexpress MUC1. Once one does, it will be quickly eliminated. Since it is quick growing cells (like cancer) that mutate at a higher rate, picking off the cells with cancerous signs will reduce this mutation rate, thus hopefully prevent this type of cancer in the lifetime of the (p

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sjames ( 1099 )

      Cancer doesn't have a global evolution process like bacteria. Even if a particular person's cancer does express another variant of Muc1, that genetic quirk dies with the patient.

      • It's not about global evolution as about treatment effectiveness. If your target protein is rapidly mutating, then selecting against it is likely to either down-regulate that protein or select for other mutations where the antibody binds to reduce binding. Supposing that only 1 in 100,000 cells survive due to that mutation, then you could say that it is still 99.999% effective. But the one surviving cell would be the mutant that proliferates and returns months to years later. It costs millions to develop th
        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          The mutation isn't all that rapid. No cancer treatment is 100%.

          No chemo kills 100% of the cancer cells, just enough of them that hopefully the immune system can get back on top of it and finish them off. If you could knock a cancer back to 1 in 100,000, it's likely a cure unless there's a serious immune system failure.

          Bacteria have a much less stable genome than even cancer cells and can even exchange plasmids with other bacteria while infecting you.

  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @03:13AM (#28848547)

    Disclaimer: My wife is a therapeutic radiographer. She treats cancer patients all day long. What I've posted here is what I understand from her, which may be completely wrong because I'm not qualified to understand everything she says.

    If you were to believe the press, a cure for cancer is found on average 2-4 times a year. Except it isn't, for a number of reasons:

    1. The "cure" is usually in the early stages of trials. Sometimes it hasn't even been taken out of the test tube and put into any living creature. (This is one of the better articles in that respect - it seems like the initial clinical trials to test whether or not it'll do any harm in humans have been passed)

    2. There's no such thing as a generic cure for cancer because there's no such thing as a generic cancer. There are dozens, if not hundreds of different types. Some tend to grow very quickly, others more slowly. Some tend to spread to other parts of the body, others don't. Some we know the main causes of, others we have no idea. Some are easy to treat and have a high success rate, others rather less so.

    This is good news because by and large the cancers which are easy to detect (and therefore tend to get treated early) are the ones which are fairly easy for a lay person to spot something wrong - think skin, breast, testicle. Cancers of internal organs which are able to function for some time with little noticeable impairment (eg. liver) are far more likely to be detected too late.

    Hence a more effective treatment for something like bowel cancer is definitely a Very Good Thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Of course she'll say that. If we find medical cures for cancer, she'll be out of a job, won't she?

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 )

        Of course she'll say that. If we find medical cures for cancer, she'll be out of a job, won't she?

        About fifteen years ago I was in an auto accident, and looking at the X-ray the radiologist noticed that I had arthritis in my spins. I asked him when the medical community was going to get around to finding a cure for arthritis.

        "We don't do cures, we do treatments. There's no money in cures."

    • This article is one of the most accurate reports on cancer treatment I've seen. Even the Slashdot title and summary avoid suggesting it's a cure for all cancers. They're very clear that it's a vaccine for colon cancer to prevent progression to cancer in people already at high risk.

      There are lots of immunotherapies at various stages of development and testing. I'm considering one myself for a colon cancer that escaped my colon long ago. I wouldn't have been a candidate for this Pittsburgh MUC1 trial since my

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So what if it's in clinical trials.... You actually think a pharmaceutical company will release a drug like this?
    that could potientially "cure" cancer or be a step toward curing?

    They will just buy it for millions from the Tech who made it and keep it in their vault like every other "Cure" drug they have.

    The amount of money they will lose from selling 1 drug that will cure 1 disease will cripple their company. Right now for that disease I bet there are 5-10 drugs given out to 1 person which is $$$ in the ban

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Depends on what you mean by "cure"... if by cure you mean something that protects against it forever, then while I'd think that's more of an immunity thing than a cure, I'd agree that it's probably been a while... at least with regards to one being commonly available. If, however, you assume that curing simply means to purge an illness out of a person who is suffering from it, or at least weaken it to the point that their own immune system can manage whatever is left, then cures can and most certainly do
  • if it's in clinical trials? Maybe it won't pan out, but it is a physical product.
  • I'm no expert, but wouldn't prompting the immune system to attack the lining of the intestine basically be intentionally-induced inflammatory bowel disease? IBD increases the risk of colon cancer...

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