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Vaccine for Asbestos-Related Cancer Looks Safe

In tests, novel immunotherapy appears to combat mesothelioma tumors

THURSDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- An investigational vaccine for the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma is safe, according to a new study.

Researchers in the Netherlands tested the vaccine -- which infuses a patient's own dendritic cells with antigen from the patient's tumor -- on 10 patients and found that it induced an immune T-cell response against mesothelioma tumors.

This is the first time DC-based immunotherapy has been tested in patients with mesothelioma, which typically occurs in the lungs but can arise at other body sites. The study was published online March 4 in advance of an upcoming print issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Asbestos has been banned in developed countries for decades, but the incidence of mesothelioma is expected to continue to increase until 2020. Median survival after mesothelioma diagnosis is about 12 months. The standard chemotherapy treatment improves survival by about three months.

"The possibility to harness the potency and specificity of the immune system underlies the growing interest in cancer immunotherapy," study author Dr. Joachim Aerts, a pulmonary physician at Erasmus Medical Center, said in a news release. "One such approach uses the patient's own [dendritic cells] to present tumor-associated antigens and thereby generate tumor-specific immunity."

Dendritic cells are a form of immune system cell.

"The major problem in mesothelioma is that the immunosuppressive environment caused by the tumor will negatively influence our therapy so we are now working on a method to lower this immunosuppressive environment," Aerts said. "We hope that by further development of our method it will be possible to increase survival in patients with mesothelioma and eventually vaccinate persons who have been in contact with asbestos to prevent them from getting asbestos related diseases."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about mesothelioma.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, March 4, 2010

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