Leeds scientists hail prostate cancer breakthrough

Professor Alan Melcher, author of the study and professor of clinical oncology and biotherapy at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine.
Professor Alan Melcher, author of the study and professor of clinical oncology and biotherapy at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine.
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AN “exciting” potential breakthrough in cancer treatment has been found by Leeds scientists.

Tests of a new vaccine using a range of DNA proved successful at treating prostate cancer in mice.

Now experts will look at whether the technique could be used to tackle other types of cancer and eventually may lead to a new treatment for patients.

Professor Alan Melcher, author of the study and professor of clinical oncology and biotherapy at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, said the findings were “very exciting”.

The team from the Cancer Research UK Centre, part of the University of Leeds and based at St James’s Hospital, used genes in a vaccine which stimulate the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Previous gene therapy vaccines have used one gene.

But it was difficult to develop successful treatments of this kind because each tumour contains specific proteins. Identifying the right antigen, which activates the immune system, has been difficult.

The Leeds team, together with a group from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in the United States, used a vaccine which contained a ‘library’ of DNA with fragments of many genes. This meant the vaccine targeted the tumour through many routes.

As the DNA was taken from a healthy prostate, the immune system only attacked the cancer cells and not other healthy parts of the body. It also does not have to be tailored to each patient.

Experiments on the mice showed the vaccine treated prostate cancer successfully and were published in medical journal, Nature Medicine.

Prof Melcher said: “This is the first time we’ve been able to use a whole library of DNA in a viral vaccine successfully.

“It is very exciting. I’m a clinician as well as running a lab. My major focus and interest is with things that can be applied in the clinic.

“We are some years off a clinical vaccine at the moment. There are lots of questions to answer from the lab side, in particular applying it to other cancers.”

Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Although the vaccine didn’t trigger the immune system to overreact and cause serious side effects in mice, it will need to be further developed and tested in humans before we can tell whether this technique could one day be used to treat cancer patients.”