Sunday, November 19, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0361 - A Vaccine?

I've done quite a bit of research into colorectal cancer during the past year. At one point, I read about a promising line of research which promised to boost the body's own immune system to find cancer cells. This week, in Clinical Cancer Research, there was further evidence that research is progressing briskly.

The vaccine used in the clinical trials simulated a protein called TNF-alpha, according to a British immunologist Lindy Durrant. Durrant has been working on this research for over 10 years. That in itself shows tremendous perseverance and commitment. The promise of a vaccine must have sustained those efforts over the years.

The idea for the vaccine came from a colorectal cancer patient with metastatic lesions on the liver who, nonetheless, survived for another 7 years after the metastasis was discovered. Usually, patients die within a year of the spread of the primary tumour. The vaccine she developed stimulates the production of T-cells which then produce proteins called cytokines that destroy cancer cells.

About two-thirds of the patients treated with the vaccine in the clinical trial showed improvement but survival was not one of the effects studied. Durrant is hoping that a newer and longer clinical trial will be funded allowing her to directly measure the effect of the vaccine on survival results. Why there wasn't more attention paid to survival in the first clinical trials does seem more than a little odd.

Perhaps the best vaccine is a simple diet of fish. A recent meeting in Boston of the American Association for Cancer Research found that men who ate several servings of fish each week had lower risk of colon cancer. This may be owing to the higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. But it seems that you must eat fish at least 5 times a week! After 19.4 years of follow-up, men who ate 5 or more servings a week had a 40% reduced risk of colorectal cancer than those men who ate fish less than once per week.

So, I guess I'll be eating more tuna and salmon sandwiches at lunch these days while eagerly awaiting news on vaccine development.

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