Using Our Immune Systems to Create Cancer-Fighting Vaccines

Friday, June 28, 2013 - 12:57pm
Chair, Department of Immunology

For decades, researchers have been aware of the body's potential to use its own immune system in the fight against cancer. However, our ability to use immunotherapy in such a way that it actually impacts patient response has improved vastly over the last five years.

We know each patient is different and the genetics of individual tumors vary greatly. Armed with that knowledge, we are discovering how the immune system suppresses or adapts to these different types of tumors and cancers.

I am fortunate to have had a first-hand view of the development and growth of Roswell Park’s Center for Immunotherapy. The need for such a facility arose because vaccines must be made on-site from patients’ own immune cells. At RPCI, vaccines are created in our cGMP (Center for Immunotherapy Good Manufacturing Practices) Facility

There are several clinical trials happening at the Center right now, one of which involves dendritic cells. Think of these cells as sentinels that direct your body’s immune system to attack cancer. That’s an ideal concept in theory, however cancer cells typically find ways to fight back, suppressing these dendritic cells.

Here at Roswell Park, Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, and Christopher Choi, PhD, developed a strategy to remove dendritic cells out of the patient through blood draws. From there, the cells are treated with novel drugs, away from the cancer and its suppressive effects, to enhance their success. At that point, the dendritic cells are re-inserted back into the patient. So, we are essentially creating a cancer-fighting vaccine from the patient’s own immune cells and giving it back to him or her.

We’re also learning more about the durability of anti-cancer immune responses. The immunity being researched at RPCI is set to last for decades, perhaps even a lifetime. A team headed up by Dr. Odunsi and Protul Shrikant, PhD, formerly of RPCI, discovered that a drug traditionally used in preventing kidney graft rejections can also increase anti-cancer immune responses. When this drug, rapamycin, is used in conjunction with vaccination, it generates a robust, long-term anti-cancer immunity.

The development of our Center and the discoveries of new immunotherapy treatments right here at Roswell Park represent a very exciting time for us as an institute and in the continued fight against cancer.

To learn more about other clinical trials and additional research taking place at the Roswell Park Center for Immunotherapy, please view the accompanying video.