November 5, 2004
by Dr. Max Gomez
Most vaccines are designed to prevent disease. But when it comes to cancer, it's a little different. Researchers are developing vaccines that stimulate a cancer patient's own immune system to help fight off the cancer.
Datar Cheema is a living example of how a combination of the right outlook and modern medicine can help keep prostate cancer at bay. He’s had a couple of operations and hormone therapy over the past seven years and if it weren't for a rising PSA level, he wouldn't even know he had cancer.
"Everybody who gets uh cancer gets shocked. But then how do you take it is more important. It has happened so you have to deal with it," he said.
For Datar, dealing with it means volunteering for a phase three clinical trial of a prostate cancer vaccine.
Dr. Anna Ferrari of Mt. Sinai Medical Center says, "The way a vaccine works is by stimulating the immune system of the individual to react and generate more immune response to kill off the tumor cells."
The vaccine, called "Provenge" does that by first taking the patient's own white blood cells so they can be activated and turned into cancer killers. That’s done by incubating the patient's blood cells with the Provenge in the Dendreon company lab.
After 36 hours, the now activated cells are reinfused or given back to the patient. "They alert essentially the immune fighting cells to wake up and fight against the cancer," said Dr. Ferrari.
What's actually happening is that the Provenge vaccine has a molecular key that fits into the lock on the patient's white blood cells. That stimulates those cells to "present" or display lots of prostate marker so when they go back into the body, the patient's T-cells are activated to become cancer killer cells.
So far, so good for Datar. "I feel absolutely fine-no problem at all."
The trials are blinded, which means that neither patient nor his doctor know whether he is getting the active vaccine or a placebo. The trial is still open and recruiting patients. Men must have evidence that their prostate cancer is continuing to spread or progress despite being treated with hormones.
For more information on the trials log onto http://www.dendreon.com/dndn/trials
or call 1-866-4prostate.
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