Deregulation and inhibition of the immune system contributes to cancer development. Many therapeutic strategies aim to re-stimulate the immune system to recognize cancer cells and target them for destruction. Researchers from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida report that a dendritic cell vaccine that targets the HER2 protein on breast cancer cells is safe and effectively stimulates the immune system leading to regression of early-stage breast cancer. The HER2 protein is over-expressed in 20-25% of all breast cancer tumors and is associated with aggressive disease and poor prognosis. Researchers have previously shown that immune cells are less able to recognize and target cancer cells that express HER2 as breast cancer progresses into a more advanced and invasive stage. This suggests that strategies that can re-stimulate the immune system to recognize and target HER2 early during cancer development may be effective treatment options. The researchers previously developed a vaccine that helps the immune system recognize the HER2 protein on breast cancer cells. Their approach involves creating the vaccine from immune cells called dendritic cells that are harvested from each individual patient to create a personalized vaccine. In order to determine if the HER2-dendritic cell vaccine is safe and effective, the researchers performed a clinical trial in 54 women who have HER2-expressing early-stage breast cancer. The dendritic cell vaccines were prepared by isolating dendritic cells from each patients' blood and exposing them to fragments of the HER2 protein. Patients were injected with a dose of their personal dendritic cell vaccine once a week for six weeks into either a lymph node, the breast tumor, or into both sites.
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