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After Giving up on Cancer Vaccines, Doctors Are Starting to Find Hope.

Some experts are optimistic about creating vaccines against pancreatic, colon, and breast cancers due to promising results from early research.

It seems like a pipe dream to think that there will ever be a cancer vaccine that will protect healthy people who have a high risk of contracting the disease. Any early malignant cells would be eliminated by the immune system. It would work similarly to how vaccinations work to protect against infectious illnesses.

The promise of cancer vaccines has, despite researchers' heroic efforts, just hung in front of them, in contrast to immunizations for infectious illnesses. Now, nevertheless, there is a general expectation that the campaign to immunize individuals against cancer will soon have some effects.

People who are horrifyingly likely to get pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult tumors to cure once it has started, are included in the first vaccination. In other vaccination trials, those who have a greater risk of developing colon and breast cancer are enrolled.

Of course, since this field of study is still in its infancy, efforts to produce a vaccine may fail. Preliminary studies on human patients and animal data, however, are both encouraging, and this increased optimism among academics is contagious.

There is no reason why cancer immunizations might not be effective if administered at an early stage, according to Sachet A. Shukla, head of the MD Anderson Cancer Center's cancer vaccine program. "Cancer immunizations are a notion whose time has come," he said. (Dr. Shukla owns shares in companies developing cancer vaccines.)

Researchers had all but given up 10 years ago when the discipline was in that situation. Studies that seemed like a pipe dream in the past are now being carried out.

Dr. Susan Domchek, the principal investigator for a study on breast cancer vaccination at the University of Pennsylvania, claims that "many would have declared this is crazy."

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She and other researchers now hope to create a vaccine and protection for everybody with a hereditary predisposition to cancer or a precancerous condition.

Although it is highly ambitious, Dr. Domchek suggested dreaming big.

Marilynn Duker was aware that several of her kin were suffering from cancer. So she leaped at the chance to get tested to see whether she had any of the 30 gene defects related to cancer when a genetic counselor advised it.
The test discovered a CDKN2A gene mutation, which increases the risk of pancreatic cancer among carriers.
I received a call from them informing me of this mutation. There really is nothing you can do, Ms. Duker, the chief executive of a senior housing firm and a resident of Pikesville, Maryland, recalled.

To examine her pancreas, she began having regular endoscopies and scans. They made an abscess visible. There has been no change in recent years. However, therapy will likely fail if it develops into cancer.
Patients with few options, like Ms. Duker, are a problem, noted Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins University Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. A person with more advanced cysts may avert cancer by having their pancreas destroyed, but it would instantly land them in a world of severe diabetes and digestive problems. The risky procedure could have been justified if it had saved their lives, but many precancerous lesions do not become cancer if they are simply left untreated.

Dr. Jaffee claims that the onset of malignancy in normal cells in pancreatic cancer is nearly invariably accompanied by a mutation in the well-known cancer gene KRAS. Following six gene abnormalities, more mutations occur, and the majority of people get pancreatic cancer as a result of these changes. This insight allowed Hopkins researchers to create a vaccine that would instruct T cells, the white blood cells of the immune system, to identify and eliminate cells with certain mutations.

In their first experiment, a safety study, twelve patients with early-stage pancreatic cancer who had already had surgery took part. Despite the fact that their illness was rapidly discovered and treated, patients with pancreatic cancer frequently have a 70% to 80% chance of experiencing a recurrence within the following few years.

The immunization seems to be effective and has sparked an immune reaction against the common cancer alterations.

So far, so good, Dr. Jaffee said.

Cancer, however, will only become apparent in time if it ceases.

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