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The First Steps toward an Anti-Tumor Vaccine

Richard Barth, MD, is chief of general surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Med­ical Center and a member of the Cancer Center's Gastrointestinal Clinical Oncology Group.

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Richard Barth, MD

He also is a cancer researcher and member of the Immunology and Cancer Immunotherapy research program. New research headed by Barth points the way toward creating personalized vaccines that one day may help patients with colorectal cancer develop an immune response against their own tumors. In a research paper published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, Dartmouth researchers explain how they created vaccines from the patients' own tumor cells—harvested after surgical resection of their metastatic tumors—to try to prevent the growth of additional metastases. "The results of the study suggest a new way to approach cancer treatment," said Dr. Barth. "Basically, we've worked out a way to use dendritic cells, which initiate immune responses, to induce an antitumor response."

Dendritic cells (DC) are critical to the human body's immune system, helping identify targets, or antigens, and then stimulating the immune system to react against those antigens. The new research grew dendritic cells from a sample of a patient's blood, mixed them with proteins from the patient's tumor, and then injected the mixture into the patient as a vaccine. The vaccine then stimulated an anti-tumor response from T-cells, a kind of white blood cell that protects the body from disease.

"We showed that a tumor lysate-­pulsed DC vaccine can induce immune responses against the patient's own tumor in a high proportion of patients," stated Barth, who has been investigating DC-based vaccines in mice and patients for more than 10 years. "There were two basic questions we wanted to answer: one, can we generate an anti-tumor response, and two, does it matter? From our research, the answer to both questions is yes."

April 15, 2011