Tobacco-based vaccine may be cure for some types of cancer

7/22/2008

CHICAGO Researchers have developed a tobacco plant-based cancer vaccine capable of kick-starting the body’s immune response and being tailored to a patient’s specific tumor type, according to a new study.

While they have not yet determined whether the immune response is adequate enough to destroy the cancer, the researchers are hopeful that the technique could one day lead to a cure for at lease some types of the deadly disease.

“This would be a way to treat cancer without side effects,” said senior author Ronald Levy of the Stanford University Medical Center. “The idea is to marshal the body’s own immune system to fight cancer,” Levy said, adding that he’s optimistic he’ll get positive results from the next clinical trial.

Levy’s team tested the vaccine on 16 patients who were recently diagnosed with follicular B-cell lymphoma, a chronic, incurable disease. None of the patients experienced any significant side-effects and more than 70 percent of the patients developed an immune response, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found.

This is the first time a plant-based cancer vaccine has been tested on humans. There have been a few trials of cancer vaccines developed with animal or human cells but they have had mixed results.

The vaccine works by, after researchers find the right target on the individuals’ tumor, they clone the genes from the patient’s tumor. Those genes are then injected into a virus, which naturally attacks tobacco plants. This virus is scratched onto the leaves of a tobacco plant and it becomes a “protein production factor,” Levy said. A week later, the leaves are ground up and then the protein is isolated and injected into the patient.

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