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Liver Cancer Vaccine Found To Be Effective In Mice

Update Date: Jun 04, 2014 09:55 AM EDT

Researchers, by tweaking a protein expressed by most liver cancer cells, have made a vaccine that is remarkably effective at preventing the disease in mice. 

"Alpha-Fetoprotein, or AFP - normally expressed during development and by liver cancer cells as well - has escaped attack in previous vaccine iterations because the body recognizes it as self,"  said Dr. Yukai He, immunologist at the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Regents University Cancer Center in the press release.

According to previous reports, liver cancer has become one of the fastest-growing and deadliest cancers. In the United States, the disease has a 17 percent three-year survival rate. 

Researchers through a process called antigen engineering, tweaked AFP just enough to get the immune system to recognize it while keeping the AFP expressed by liver cancer cells in the bull's eye. 

"Recurring tumor cells is an unfortunately realistic scenario for liver cancer patients, who have a 70 percent recurrence rate in five years", He said, in the press release. "Patients typically have surgery to remove the diseased portion of the liver, but there are currently no effective adjuvant therapies, such as chemotherapy, to reduce recurrence."

Researchers believe that some version of this vaccine one day will provide that key missing piece and dramatically improve patient survival. They added that the approach might also work to prevent the disease in high-risk populations. 

"Now that we know it works in mice, we have to make sure it works in people," He said, noting that many promising cancer vaccines have not worked well in humans.

Researchers reported the development in the journal Hepatology

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