In early research that involved marshaling the body's own immune system, a personalized vaccine helped patients with ovarian cancer mount a stronger defense against their tumors than standard therapy and substantially improved their survival rate.
The vaccine was tested in a preliminary clinical trial and used with standard chemotherapy and an immune-boosting agent. The experimental therapy, described recently in the journal Science Translational Medicine, weaves together a number of approaches that are collectively driving innovations in cancer treatment.
Because the treatment uses the patient's immune cells as a sort of T-cell training force, it is an immunotherapy. Because it uses the distinctive proteins on a patient's own tumor as homing beacons, it is a targeted therapy. And because a patient's cells are harvested and returned to her, it is personalized therapy.
Rather than round up a patient's T cells and re-engineer them in a lab to find cancer, this treatment harvests a class of immune "helpers" called dendritic cells. Using ground-up cells from a patient's tumor, researchers trained the dendritic cells to recognize and attack that specific malignancy. When these fortified cells were reintroduced into the patient, they passed on their training to the immune system's army of killer T cells and sent them into battle.