Kidney cancer spreads fast, and when it does, it can kill within months. Now there's a vaccine that may stop the cancer in its tracks.
Faith was more than a mere crutch for Rev. Jerry Burnside when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. "I was not afraid of dying. My faith sustained me in that, but I dreaded the process of dying," he says.
Kidney cancer is highly curable if it's caught early, but it does not respond well to standard therapies once it spreads. Burnside's had spread, so his prognosis was grim. "If I lived a year that would really be doing well," he says. "I felt sorry for myself, had a good cry."
Prayer brought him peace. Science brought him hope.
Researchers have developed a vaccine by taking blood cells from patients, creating specialized cells, and exposing them to material from their own tumor cells. The cells are then injected back into the patient where they trigger immune cells to attack the cancer.
"We don't see a very dramatic impact on the tumor itself. We don't see tumors melt away. But what we see is that these tumors just don't grow anymore" say doctors.
Patients on the vaccine have had no negative side effects, they are well tolerated vaccines, highly specific and highly targeted. It's been more than three years since a doctor told Burnside he'd be lucky to live six months. "I could not have had any better results or less complications," he says. The church cemetery is Burnside's sanctuary for prayer and meditation, but he's not ready to stay there just yet.
Researchers have also used the same immune cell technology to develop an experimental prostate cancer vaccine and say it may be useful in other types of cancers as well. Burnside is currently writing a book about his experience with kidney cancer.