It is generally considered that mesothelioma, pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer have poor survival rates and methods of effective treatments somewhat limited.  However the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center have derived a new innovative approach to cancer immunotherapy which may prove not only to be effectual but also cost-effective against some of the most deadly tumours.  It is in short a strategy designed to induce the immune system to attack cancer cells.

 

So just what is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy, sometimes also referred to as biologic therapy or biotherapy, is treatment that uses certain parts of the immune system to fight disease such as cancer.

 For a long time Medics have suspected that the immune system has an effect on certain cancers. Way back in the 1800, William Coley, MD, A New York Surgeon first noted that getting an infection after surgery appeared to help some cancer patients, somewhat similar to the homeopathic principal of ‘like curing like’. He began treating such patients by infecting them with certain kinds of bacteria, which came to be known as Coley Toxins. 

He had some success though his technique was ultimately overshadowed when other forms of cancer treatment, such as radiation came into use.  Since William Coley’s pioneering belief, a considerable amount of research into the immune system has been undertaken and information and knowledge acquired.

 Presently there are two main immunotherapy techniques;

 

  •  Stimulate your own immune system to work harder to attack cancer    cells

 

  • Provide your immune system certain components, such as man-made immune system proteins.

 

Immunotherapy seems to work better for some types of cancer than for others.  It can be used by itself to treat certain cancers though it is generally used along side other types of treatment.

So just how is this innovative and novel cancer immunotherapy practiced? Mark Poznansky MD, PhD, director of the MGH Vaccine and ImmunotherapyCenter comments,

“Our study describes a very practical, potentially broadly applicable and low-cost approach that could be used by oncologists everywhere, not just in facilities able to harvest and handle patient’s cells.”

 He adds that the Tumours that might be treated with the mesothelin-targeting vaccine namely ovarian caner, pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma, all have poor survival rates.

“Immunotherapy is generally nontoxic, so this vaccine has the potential of safely extending survival and reducing the effects of these tumours, possibly even cutting the risk of recurrence. 

Jeffrery Gelfand, MD, senior scientist at the Vaccine and Immunotherapy centre  adds “Many patients with advanced cancers don’t have enough functioning immune cells to be harvested to make a vaccine, but our protein can be made in unlimited amounts to work with the immune cells patients have remaining,” 

“We have created a potentially much less expensive approach to making a therapeutic cancer vaccine that, while targeting a single tumour antigen, generates an immune response against multiple antigens.  Now if we can combine this with newly-described ways to remove the immune system’s “brakes” – regulatory functions that normally suppress persistent T-cell activity – the combination could be dramatically enhance cancer immunotherapy.”

 The research team at Massachuetts GeneralHospital has just received a two year grant from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program to continue their research.