Health Team

Cancer vaccine created from patient's white blood cells

Posted March 17, 2010
Updated March 18, 2010

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— By the time Jonathan Smith learned he had prostate cancer, it had spread, so most treatment options didn't hold much promise.

Now, he's part of a clinical trial at Duke Medical Center where they take out some of his own immune cells – or white blood cells – to create a vaccine.

“The vaccine programs are all geared toward letting your own immune system cure you and that's what your system is supposed to do,” Smith said.

Cancer vaccine created from patient's blood cells Cancer vaccine created from patient's blood cells

The immune cells are given a boost at a New Jersey lab, with the help of drug company Dendreon.

“It's the patient's own immune cells which are taught essentially to, in the broad sense, taught to recognize prostate cancer cells,” Duke Medical oncologist Dr. Deborah Bradley said.

The result is a vaccine called Provenge, shipped back to the hospital in cold storage and given to the patient by infusion. The same process is repeated three times over several weeks.

“All of the processes I've had, I've really had no reaction to any of them,” Smith said.

The third phase of the trial showed great promise with a four month survival advantage, Bradley said. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot, she said, that is the median.

Smith has already survived almost nine years since his first diagnosis. An earlier vaccine trial helped put his cancer into remission, until it returned last summer. He and wife Becky are confident this vaccine will do the same and last even longer.

“I think they're on the right track of perhaps finding a cure for all types of cancers using this type of an approach, because it makes sense – it's your own body healing yourself,” Smith said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could approve the vaccine on May 1.

Now, because the vaccine has shown such a benefit, Duke and a few other sites across the country now offer an open access trial, which has loosened the criteria to include more prostate cancer patients.


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  • jonhershey Mar 19, 2010

    @Caveman93, Cervical cancer has been shown to be primarily caused by a virus (HPV).

    But...this (Provenge) is not a "prophylactic" vaccine (designed to prevent), it is a "therapeutic" (after the fact) vaccine that trains the immune system to go after prostate specific cells.
    The broad term for this is Immunology.

    Dendreons website has a nice presentation showing how it works if you are interested.

  • Kingfish Mar 18, 2010

    This is very exciting. Medicine at its best!!!

  • virtuouswoman Mar 18, 2010


  • MileageDontTakeYourKidsCrap Mar 18, 2010

    this is exciting news. i wish my dad would have had the opportunity to benefit from this procedure.

  • Caveman93 Mar 18, 2010

    So Cancer IS a virus?????