Medicine, and its battle against cancer, is going back to the future! Dendritic Cell (DC) therapy, is a new weapon in this ongoing fight. DC therapy harnesses the proven and historical principles of vaccines to generate and/or boost a personalized immune system attack for a patient undergoing cancer treatment. Let’s look a little deeper. When we get a vaccine, a small fragment of a microbe (e.g., virus) is introduced into our body to allow our own immune system to both recognize and mount a response. The idea is that if we are exposed to the real infection, our body is not only familiar, but our immune attack is both quick and strong—the end result is to avoid infection. Today, doctors and scientist apply this same principle to cancer, with a little twist.
A Cancer Treatment Vaccine
In Dendritic Cell therapy, the idea is that a small unique piece or fragment of that particular cancer is isolated. This can be a piece of a protein, or sugar, or some other molecule. Next, blood is taken from the patient and put through a special filtering process to concentrate a group of cells, known as dendritic cells, which are a member of the body’s immune system that are responsible for presenting foreign or abnormal cells to the fighting members of the immune system. In other words, a basic idea of our immune system is that certain cells present and certain cells fight. In DC therapy, the idea is to expose these presenting dendritic cells to the specific cancer fragment. In a special laboratory, the piece or fragment of the cancer is grown with these dendritic cells. These concentrated dendritic cells are then returned back to the patient and administered by their physician to allow a greater exposure to the fighter T cells. Typically, a patient may have several rounds of this therapy to allow repeated exposure. Ultimately, the idea is to have the patient’s specific cancer battled by their own enhanced or boosted self-immunity—a tailored cancer treatment vaccine!
The first cancer treatment vaccine approved by the US FDA was in 2010, and targeted spreading prostate cancer. Side effects of cancer vaccines may include inflammation and redness at the site of cells injection along with flu-like symptoms. There are also a few serious, albeit rare, side effects including allergic reactions and autoimmune conditions. Today, this approach to treating cancer is usually part of a comprehensive, combination approach to attacking cancer. The good news is that Dendritic Cell can be easily combined with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other traditional forms of cancer therapies. This combination approach also may include immune modulation therapy, which can optimize the number and balance of T-cells present.
Today, Dendritic Cell therapy is being researched for many types of cancer, including common cancers such as colon and breast. A great resource for patients looking to find a specific clinical trial can be found through the website www.clinicaltrials.gov. This site lists both US and International clinical trials and a quick search can reveal studies that may be actively recruiting patients. There is no doubt that Dendritic Cell therapy will play a growing role in the ongoing battle to beat cancer—a fact that brings hope to patients worldwide.