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Hope for ovarian cancer vaccine

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In the latest foray into personalized medicine, scientists design tumour vaccines specific to each patient’s tumor. Although the technology is in its infancy and the trial is small-scale, the findings are incredibly promising.

Over recent years, there have been various attempts to produce anti-cancer vaccines.

Most of these efforts have focused on designing a vaccine that recognizes a generic target on a tumour.

This method ensured that the vaccine would be able to attack most tumors, but it also meant that it lacked specificity — every tumor is different.

Recently, researchers set out to design a vaccine that is much more patient-specific. They attempted to tailor a vaccine to specifically match the patient’s individual disease.

The research took place across a range of institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Lausanne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Switzerland.

The team concentrated on people with advanced ovarian cancer, a particularly difficult cancer to manage; treatment normally involves surgery followed by chemotherapy and, although there is often a good response initially, patients tend to relapse and become resistant to treatment.

Though the study only set out to determine whether such a personalized treatment was possible and safe, the results were positive and the authors believe that the technology has enormous potential.

Each tumour has its own set of mutations, making it unique. The vaccine designed by the team was a so-called whole-tumor vaccine. This means that rather than targeting just one region of the tumor, it attacks hundreds, or even thousands, of sites.

Lead study author Dr. Janos L. Tanyi explains, “The idea is to mobilize an immune response that will target the tumor very broadly, hitting a variety of markers including some that would be found only on that particular tumour.”

Naturally, T cells mount an immune response against tumors, but this vaccine heightens their attack and helps them to overcome the cancer’s robust defenses.

The team’s results were published last week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Also, scientists have discovered that a solution might lie in a new drug that tackles cancer cells differently.

An experimental new drug may tackle treatment resistance in cancer.

In the study paper, now published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, they report how the experimental drug showed promising results in animal models of both breast and colorectal cancer.

The drug targets a molecule that helps cancer cells to read instructions in their DNA. In fact, targeting this function has received attention lately as a new approach to treating cancer.

“Treatment-resistant tumors represent a significant threat for patients,” says study author Charles Coombes, who is a professor of medical oncology at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, “as once a cancer stops responding to treatments there is increasingly little clinicians can do.”

The new drug, called ICEC0942, has been licenced to a private company. They have developed it further and entered it into a phase I clinical trial that started treating people in November 2017.

The trial will assess the safety and effectiveness of the drug in humans. It is likely to be several years before it is approved for clinical use, however.

Also, new studies show a correlation between cell phones and cancer in lab rats, but the evidence may not resolve ongoing debates over causality or whether any effects arise in people.

The ionizing radiation given off by sources such as x-ray machines and the sun boosts cancer risk by shredding molecules in the body.

But the non-ionizing radio-frequency (RF) radiation that cell phones and other wireless devices emit has just one known biological effect: an ability to heat tissue by exciting its molecules.

Still, evidence advanced by the studies shows prolonged exposure to even very low levels of RF radiation, perhaps by mechanisms other than heating that remain unknown, makes rats uniquely prone to a rare tumor called a schwannoma, which affects a type of neuron (or nerve cell) called a Schwann cell.

The studies are notable for their sizes. Researchers at the United States National Toxicology Programme, a federal interagency group under the National Institutes of Health, tested 3,000 rats and mice of both sexes for two years—the largest investigation of RF radiation and cancer in rodents ever undertaken in the U.S.

European investigators at the Ramazzini Institute in Italy were similarly ambitious; in their recent study they investigated RF effects in nearly 2,500 rats from the fetal stage until death.

Also, new research suggests that iron tablets taken by millions may cause bowel cancer.

A study found even low doses of the chemicals ferric citrate and ferric EDTA, which are commonly found in over-the-counter iron supplements, increase levels of a protein associated with the disease.

The findings were published in the journal Oncotarget.

Lead author Professor Scheers, from the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, said: “We can conclude ferric citrate and ferric EDTA might be carcinogenic, as they both increase the formation of amphiregulin, a known cancer marker most often associated with long-term cancer with poor prognosis.”

This is not the first time such concerns have been raised, with a study released two years ago suggesting the DNA of cells in blood vessels can be destroyed within 10 minutes of swallowing iron tablets.

Previous research suggests excessive iron levels ‘switch on’ genetic pathways that lead to bowel cancer.

Meanwhile, according to a recent study, the immune system may play a more important role in age-related cancer than previously thought.

To create these vaccines, Dr. Tanyi and team pored over the immune cells present in the patients’ blood. They were on the lookout for precursor cells that they could extract and grow in the laboratory.

From these, they developed a population of dendritic cells.

Dendritic cells are messengers, of sorts, in that they consume antigen material (in this case, parts of a tumor) and present it to T cells to spark a response.

The dendritic cells were taken from the patients’ blood and then introduced to extracts of their tumors and activated with interferon gamma, which is a chemical that is critical in the immune response.

Finally, they were injected into the patients’ lymph nodes.

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