Cancer vaccine?

A friend of mine has a form of lymphoma, slow-growing but hard to treat. He told me on Sunday he’s joining a clinical trial where they’ll attempt to create a “vaccine” to his cancer.

He said they’ll take some RNA from his cancer cells and make antibodies that will attack those cells and those cells only. Essentially, they’ll be inducing an auto-immune condition, but one that’s good for him.

I didn’t press him for details, partly because I know it’s a sensitive subject for him and partly because he’s not really a close friend, and it’s none of my business.

But I figured Dopers would know more. How strong are the expectations and hopes for this treatment?

What are the dangers?

If this works, will it work for other forms of cancer as well?

It sounds like they plan to use monoclonal antibodies, to rid his body of the cancer RNA. Monoclonal antibodies have been used for years.

MABs by themselves may enhance a patient’s immune response to the cancer. Some antitumor effects have been seen in the antibody treatment of lymphoma and some other cancers. But this treatment is not perfect. Sometimes the injected antibodies produce no response or block a normal response. Cancer cells can also hide their antigens, making themselves less likely to be destroyed. A way to increase the effectiveness of MABs is to combine them with another form of therapy.

These websites can provide some background and help you get started with some links:

It sounds like the patient’s macrophages are transfected with tumor specific RNA and reintroduced to the body, where they translate it to tumor cell proteins which are then recognized by the body’s immmune system (T cells). In theory, the patient’s immune system then would recognize tumor cells as foreign and attack and destroy them.

I remember reading that the RNA vaccines are safer than the DNA vaccines because they can’t be integrated into the genome. Also, if the RNA is transfected along with the RNA coding for viral replicase (an enzyme that will replicate the transfected RNA), the immune response is amplified due to the higher number of RNA messages that are translated into tumor protein.

The problem, as barbitu8 said, is that cancer cells are notorious for having antigens that aren’t recognized.

In the paper I remember (in Nature Medicine a while back), mice (or rabbits?) infected with tumor cells were able to survive and actually reduce the number of tumors when given the replicase RNA vaccine; animals use as controls all died rapidly.

Sounds like they’ve moved on to human trials.

Good luck to your friend; my mother recently had cancer and chemo, radiation, and surgery seems to have gotten it.