By updating an upgrading an individual’s immune system, a mixed team of researchers from UC San Diego Health and La Jolla Institute has managed to take the fight against the terrible disease to the next level.
The key to the whole process was developing a way of reliably defining the neoantigens – foreign protein fragments, so that antibodies could identify and eliminate them. “T cells need to recognize a cancer cell as being different before they can produce a response to destroy a patient’s tumor”, said Ezra Cohen, MD, one of the project leaders.
With the information from those malignant cells decoded, the team can tailor a serum that stimulates the protective immune system response of that particular patient. “We are creating an incredibly personalized and precise therapy that is based on what that person’s cancer and immune system are telling us. Each vaccine we develop only applies to a specific individual”.
“It’s been invention and new science every step of the way. This process simply hasn’t existed until we tried to build it here”.
Tamara Strauss has been the first person to try this experimental treatment. Even though she has been battling stage IV pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer for more than three years, both her body and her spirit remain strong, and is expected to have a positive overall reaction.
“As much I would love to be cancer-free more than anything, I hope this vaccine truly does work because of the immense impact it could make on helping so many people, and easing the pain of what they go through as a cancer patient, would be phenomenal”, noted Tamara.
This new approach presents a number of advantages over current therapies. For one thing, it minimizes the patient’s exposure to toxic cytostatic drugs. It’s also considerably less invasive – only a couple of injections are required, few months apart.
“Every person’s cancer is different. We need to stop taking patients and try to fit them to drugs. We need to start making drugs and fitting them to what we’re seeing biologically in a patient’s cancer”, concluded Dr. Cohen.