The Science Translational Medicine published a study on April 11, called “Personalized cancer vaccine effectively mobilizes antitumor T cell immunity in ovarian cancer.” The team who wrote it, formed by 31 people linked to medicine, explained how they conducted a “pilot” trial for testing the product, and 392 vaccines were administered.
The study represents a significant hope for patients who have ovarian cancer, since it is such a hard disease to treat because it is usually diagnosed late. Even if the patients receive surgery and chemotherapy, about 85% o them relapse, and develop chemoresistance.
The team at the University o Pennsylvania aims to boosts patients’ immune system to fight the disease. The coauthor of the study, Janos Tanyi of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, stated that the team thinks the study warrants further testing in more extensive clinical trials.
Using the patients’ cells
In the research, the team focused on patients that presented recurrent advanced epithelial ovarian cancer – considering that, for this group, the five-year survival rate is around just a 17%.
The team first extracted dendritic cells from each patient – which are antigen-presenting cells that help prime T-cell responses – and then grew them in the presence of antigens from the patient’s tumor.
The dendritic cells were then injected back into the patients’ lymph nodes to trigger an anti-tumor T-cell response. All 25 patients who were part of the trial received a series of these injections.
Patients who received the vaccine combined with the chemotherapy drugs had a two-year survival rate of 78%, in contrast with just a 44% of patients in control cohort receiving only chemotherapy. Tanyi explained that the vaccine appears to be safe, so it is almost “unbelievable.”
The chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, Otis Brawley, claimed that the study justifies a larger clinical trial. However, he also warned against overstating the promise of the team’s personalized approach in contrast to already existing tried and tested treatments. He explained that the public often wants to “pass up better-proven conventional therapy for an unknown in immunotherapy.”
A monster called ovarian cancer
According to the American Society of Cancer, ovarian cancer, as it name portrays it, is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries – which are the female reproductive glands, and their primary job is to allow the reproduction. The ovaries are made up of 3 types of cells, each one of them able to develop into a different kind of tumor.
Epithelial tumors begin in the cells that cover that outer surface of the ovary. This is the most common type of ovarian tumors since most of them are epithelial cell tumors. Germ cell tumors develop from the cells that produce the ova, while stromal tumors start from structural tissue which holds the ovary together and creates the female hormones, estrogen, and progesterone.
Most of the tumors are benign, non-cancerous, and never spread beyond the ovary. Additionally, they can be treated by either removing the ovary or the part of it that contains the tumor. Nevertheless, malignant tumors – cancerous, also called carcinomas – or low malignant potential ovarian tumors – also known as borderline epithelial ovarian cancer – can spread, metastasize, to other areas of the body and it can be fatal.
Epithelial ovarian carcinomas are divided into three grades – which are classified by how much the tissue on the tumor looks like normal. The tumor stage describes how far it has spread from where it started in the ovary.
Epithelial ovarian cancer tends to spread to the lining and organs of the pelvis and abdomen first. Then, this could lead to the build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity, and it becomes more advanced, it could spread to the lung and liver, or, rarely, to the brain, skin, or bones.
The common treatment
After a patient is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, options are given to her depending on the type and stage. The primary treatments for the disease include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, or radiation therapy. They could also be combined.
Still, joining clinical trials like the recent one, or considering complementary and alternative methods, is often recommended.
The alternative methods could include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or even acupuncture or massage. Doctors warn their patients about complementary methods that could be dangerous for them, so only a discussion about the subject with the healthcare provider could tell the patient if she can follow this kind of methods or not.
“Survival analysis is prone to some biases, which can mislead even the most experienced of clinical trialists. The public often wants to pass up better-proven conventional therapy for an unknown in immunotherapy,” Dr. Otis Brawley explained.