Health Team

UNC works to develop vaccine for lung cancer

Posted September 28, 2007 4:55 p.m. EDT
Updated September 9, 2008 2:49 p.m. EDT

More cancer centers are turning to the body's own immune system for help in fighting some malignancies. A trial by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researchers is using that approach to tackle lung cancer.

After Tracey Hackney had a heart attack, further tests revealed cancer in his upper left lung. After doctors told him he might not survive surgery to remove the cancer, he began chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

He also joined a study for additional treatment – a series of weekly vaccines.

"What we're really doing is trying to sensitize the immune system to parts of the tumor that may be different than parts of the normal cell," Dr. Mark Socinski, a medical oncologist at UNC, said.

The study grew out of a smaller pilot trial that showed promise in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer. UNC is enrolling more patients in the study, with a goal of getting 1,400 patients from around the world.

"Patients who received chemo, plus radiation, as well as the vaccine to this MUC 1 antigen, appeared to have a more favorable survival experience" compared with those who got only standard therapy, Socinski said.

Hackney said he doesn't know if he's in the control group, which receives a false vaccine, or the trial group, which receives the experimental vaccine.

Either way, he said, he's thankful for the additional health monitoring and the chance to benefit others who will suffer from the same disease.

"No. 1, if it could help me and I'd gone this far, I had nothing to lose," Hackney said.