Recent experiments by researchers at the John A. Burns Schools of Medicine at the University of Hawaii point to a new potential immunotherapy vaccine. The therapy is based on the survivin protein, which is over-expressed in most cancer cells and absent in normal, healthy tissue. Mesothelioma lawyers point to this experimental vaccine as it may be the basis for upcoming clinical trials.
Survivin is a protein evident both in human cancer tissue and in the Fowlpox virus, which affects mainly chickens and turkeys. University of Hawaii researchers genetically modified the Fowlpox virus so it would encode to target survivin and developed it into a vaccine. The vaccine stimulates the body’s anti-tumor immune response system, so that it specifically targets the cells expressing survivin. As noted, healthy cells do not produce the survivin protein.
The experiment focused on laboratory mice with malignant mesothelioma tumor cells. Researchers injected the mice with the Fowlpox-based vaccine to test its efficacy on the immune system. Experimental immunotherapy treatments are attractive because of their increasing importance in treating several types of cancer, such as cervical cancer with the HPV vaccination. Some immunotherapies aim to boost the immune system overall, so that it works harder or more efficiently to attack the cancer cells. Others, such as the Fowlpox vaccine, aim to train the immune system to attack specific cancer cells.
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Because there is no successful therapy currently available for patients with malignant mesothelioma, much emphasis has been put on immunotherapy development. The mice showed significant immune response after vaccination, which led to delayed tumor growth and improved overall survival. Analysis of survivin spleen and lymph node cells from vaccinated mice confirmed the presence of antigen-specific T-cells, which are the cells needed to specifically fight off cancer.
The vaccination did not affect fertility or induce any autoimmune abnormalities in the mice. The results demonstrate that vaccination with modified Fowlpox-expressing survivin improves immune system responses against aggressive malignant mesothelioma tumors. The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer on January 21st, 2013.
Immunotherapy of this kind works better for some cancers than for others. For early-stage mesothelioma, an immunotherapy treatment could be used by itself, although, because of the nature of the disease, most mesotheliomas are not detected until the later stages. By this point, the cancer will most likely have spread beyond its point of development, so an immunotherapy may be used in conjunction with other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
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Cancer vaccines work much the same way as other viral vaccines do, such as the flu shot. They use weakened or genetically modified germs or viruses, like the survivin-encoded Fowlpox virus, to stimulate the body’s immune system, so it can better defend against these specific viruses. Unlike typical viral vaccines, the ultimate goal of cancer vaccines is the get the immune system to attack against the diseased cells that already exist in the body, rather than as a preventative measure. Because the immune system has a specific capacity to remember cell activity, in the best-case scenario, the vaccine will help prevent the cancer from reoccurring. Researchers are not yet sure if it is possible to develop a vaccine that will prevent cancer, although efforts are already underway in very early stages.
Some of the other cancer treatment vaccines currently being studied include those made by actual human cancer cells. The cells are removed during surgery, killed with radiation, and then injected back into the patient. The Fowlpox therapy is considered an antigen vaccine, which refers to the use of a protein or piece of protein to boost the immune system. Other vaccination options include dendritic cells, which help the immune system recognize and kill cancer cells by individualized antigens, and DNA vaccines, which code a special delivery system into each antigen, which provokes a prolonged immune response.
Lung cancer lawyers hope that this new vaccine will form the basis for promising clinical applications. Mesothelioma is a specific and fatal type of cancer directly caused by exposure to asbestos. If you or someone you love was diagnosed with mesothelioma, or any other asbestos-related illness, contact an experienced asbestos exposure attorney immediately for a free legal consultation.