Could vaccines halt the spread of metastatic cancer?

Researchers at UC San Diego Health and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology are working on a cancer vaccine that's specific for each patient. It's specifically created according to a patient's own cancer mutations and immune system. It's a clinical trial that is only for people with metastatic cancer.

Tamara Strauss can't wait to take her therapy dog Luna back for hospital visits. She has to wait because she's in the cancer vaccine trial at UC San Diego health. She is patient number one.

"Having cancer, I mean anything that presents itself as a solution or a cure, you're going to jump on the bandwagon," Strauss says.

Strauss beat pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer twice. Now it's back, and stage four. Her doctors say everyone's cancer and immune system are different, so they are treating them differently.

"If we were going to think about curing patients with metastatic disease, with advanced cancer, then we had to design therapies that were really individual," said Ezra Cohen, MD, Associate Director of Translational Science at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health.

The team tested Strauss' tumor and identified neoantigens, or mutations her immune system responds to. They cultured the neoantigens with Strauss' t-cells and gave her a series of three vaccines. Dr. Cohen said they worried the t-cells would reach the tumor and be deactivated. So they added Keytruda.

Dr. Cohen said, "What the Keytruda does, is that essentially, it keeps those t-cells from falling asleep once they get to the tumor, and so hopefully, once that happens, those t-cells destroy the cancer."

It's only been four months since Strauss began the trial, but a mid-treatment CT scan was promising.

Strauss' parents donated a million dollars to fund this trial, hoping to help her. They've already lost another daughter to cancer. The trial will enroll ten patients and only has three now. Doctors are looking for patients with any kind of slow-growing metastatic cancer.

Contributors: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Robert Walko, Editor.
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