Local News

Clinical Trials For Experimental Cancer Vaccine Under Way

Posted May 26, 2004

— The word remission is the best thing a cancer patient can hear. Some types of cancer are almost guaranteed to return, but a new vaccine could keep patients in remission for years or longer.

A year ago, cancer was the last thing on Jorge Falcon's mind. The 39-year-old found a bump on his neck that was diagnosed as

non-Hodgkins lymphoma

.

Thanks to chemotherapy, his cancer is in remission. But Falcon's type of lymphoma almost always returns.

"That's exactly why I'm looking forward to this vaccine. Hopefully, it's a cure," he said.

An experimental vaccine

now in early testing

prevented the recurrence of cancer in 85 percent of patients. The vaccine kills the tumors the chemotherapy did not get.

"Every vaccine is absolutely specific for the individual," researcher Dr. Georgio Inghirami said.

Doctors first identify the unique protein around the cancer cells. They use that information to make a specific vaccine for each patient. The vaccine boosts the immune system, telling the body to attack cancer cells.

"They recognize the tumor cells and physically kill them," Inghirami said.

Falcon will get his customized vaccine in a few months.

"I won't know if this vaccine works until I'm pretty much old and gray, I guess. Hopefully I will get to be old and gray," he said.

If so, it will be thanks to a medicine that taught his body how to heal itself.

The vaccine is still in the testing phase and is not available to the public. Duke University is one of several medical centers

participating in the clinical trials

.

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