Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have begun testing a vaccine to prevent colon cancer.
If shown to be effective, it might spare patients the risk and inconvenience of repeated invasive surveillance tests, such as colonoscopy, that are now necessary to spot and remove precancerous polyps.
In a new approach for cancer prevention, the new vaccine is directed against an abnormal variant of a self-made cell protein called MUC1, which is altered and produced in excess in advanced adenomas and cancer.
"By stimulating an immune response against the MUC1 protein in these precancerous growths, we may be able to draw the immune system's fire to attack and destroy the abnormal cells. That might not only prevent progression to cancer, but even polyp recurrence," Schoen said.
According to co-author Olivera Finn, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at Pitt's School of Medicine, MUC1 vaccines have been tested for safety and immunogenicity in patients with late-stage colon cancer and pancreatic cancer.
"Patients were able to generate an immune response despite their cancer-weakened immune systems. Patients with advanced adenomas are otherwise healthy and so they would be expected to generate a stronger immune response. That may be able to stop precancerous lesions from transforming into malignant tumours," she said.
About a dozen people have received the experimental vaccine so far, and the researchers intend to enroll another 50 or so into the study.