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Lung cancer vaccine trial continues at UK’s Markey Cancer Center


Two University of Kentucky researchers continue their work with a vaccine to prevent lung cancer recurrences in patients following primary treatment of the disease.

Vaccines are being developed with the hope of reducing the unacceptably high rates of recurrence and disease progression seen in the treated lung cancer population. The cancer vaccine program is now enrolling a second cohort of subjects to study the effects of the vaccine in lung cancer patients. The vaccine is delivered following conventional treatment with surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy and the patients evaluated for immune responses that could indicate clinical benefit.

Edward A. Hirschowitz, M.D., Associate professor of medicine, and John Yannelli, Ph.D., Associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology, both in the UK College of Medicine, are using white blood cells from the patients’ blood to make the vaccine. They then administer the vaccine to the patient which allows the patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy tumor cells that can lead to recurrences after cancer treatment.

"This trial is important in the fight against lung cancer because additional medical therapies are not generally recommended until recurrences are seen," said Hirschowitz. "We are using the window between definitive medical or surgical therapy and lung cancer recurrence to enhance the immune response to a cancer recurrence."

The vaccine in this study uses dendritic cells, the most potent immune inducing cells found in the human body. In the lab these cells can be grown in large numbers then programmed with tumor information that directs the immune system to recognize and kill tumor cells in the body.

"UK is in the forefront of cancer research and therapy with this study," said Yannelli. "Only in the past five years have scientists learned to grow these cells in large numbers and manipulate their biology in laboratory culture. As a result, we can experimentally culture these cells in the lab and inject patients with more of these potent cells to engineer immune responses to different diseases."

In the previous cohort the researchers had very positive biological results and patient outcomes. In this second group, the researchers hope to treat 30 new patients over a period of two years. Each patient receives two injections of the dendritic cells, one month apart. It takes seven days to make the vaccine. Following careful monitoring to insure the vaccine is safe, the antigen loaded dendritic cells are injected into the patient. The second dose is administered a month later.

Initially, the Kentucky Lung Cancer Tobacco Settlement Foundation gave the researchers $200,000 to start the project and an additional; $500,000 was secured from the Cancer Treatment Research Foundation. They have recently secured another grant for $700,000 to further their efforts.

Kentucky has the highest incidence of lung cancer in the country. "Kentucky has such a devastating problem, developing vaccines research here is really important. A seemingly endless stream of lung cancer patients seen in our clinics continually reinforces the importance of this research. " said Hirschowitz "UK is one of the prevailing lung cancer vaccine centers in the U.S."

Louise DuPont | EurekAlert!
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