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Research Shows Promise in Using Immune Therapy on Ovarian Cancer

Update Date: Apr 08, 2013 10:20 AM EDT

In a new study, researchers announced promising results from a two-step immunotherapy process used to treat women suffering from ovarian cancer. Although the research is considered to be in the early stages, the results reveal that this new approach in dealing with this cancer can be effective. The treatment process involves using a patient's own dendritic cells to create a personalized vaccine that would ideally be the most effective in fighting the cancer, and according to the findings, this process seems to work quite well so far.

The study, headed by Lana Kandalaft, PharmD, Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania, recruited 31 patients who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The patients were all treated with an individualized vaccine and 65 percent of the patients reported to having partial response or complete stabilization of the disease as a result of the treatment. Kandalaft and her research team did a second step for 11 patients known as adoptive T cell therapy. In this subset, 73 percent of the people's cancers were either stabilized or significantly shrunken.

"This is definitely a vast unmet need for the development of novel, alternative therapies," she said. Kandalaft believes that this kind of treatment can be particularly effective for patients who relapse frequently. One of the patients in the study had relapsed twice and had gone through three surgeries. After the dendritic cell vaccine, she has lived 45 months without any progression in her cancer.

According to the researchers, dendritic cells can be used to treat ovarian cancer because these cells have the ability to collect information about certain weak areas in the cancer cells, essentially arming the vaccine with targets to kill. The dendritic cells were derived from the tumor cells through a process known as apheresis and then exposed to antigens from the tumor. The cells were then injected along with Avastin, an intravenous bevacizumab, into the lymph nodes over a span of three months.

"It's now possible to devise very efficient and complex but feasible combination strategies [starting with] a vaccination that will basically point the immune system in the direction of the tumor," said Louis Weiner, M.D. from Georgetown University. Weiner was not a part of the study. "And then you can further expand the response in a very productive and useful way through an adoptive transfer of activated T Cells that have been educated to attack that particular set of antigens.

The findings were reported at the yearly meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. 

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