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It may soon be possible to vaccinate against brain tumours

30th May 2008

The Economist welcomes news that it may become possible to vaccinate against brain tumours.

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From the moment it was realised thate cervical cancer was caused by a virus and that a vaccine seemed to prevent it, scientists began searching for other cancers that may be caused by a virus to see if they could be similarly prevented by vaccination.

It now seems this may apply to the most lethal from of brain tumour, glioblastomas.

Several years ago Dr Charles Cobbs of the California Pacific Medical Centre Research Institute in San Francisco noticed a connection between this type of brain tumour and a form of herpes.

Duane Mitchell of Duke University in North Carolina and his colleagues took this one, first confirming the initial findings and then discovering cytomegalovirus in the tumours of more than 90% of those people with glioblastoma.

In experiments with 21 patients, they encouraged their immune systems to attack the tumours by training them to recognise the signs of active cytomegalovirus infection. Early results suggest this form of brain tumour may be susceptible to vaccination.

With most glioblastomas leading to death in two years and with chemotherapy only slowing that tumour growth by up to eight months, Dr Mitchell’s initial vaccine saw this figure rises to more than a year when coupled with traditional treatment.

Tumours in some patients stopped growing for two years, “an observation that opens the door to work on a proper vaccine.?

The link between active cytomegalovirus and glioblastoma remains unclear but if a vaccine causes the immune system to destroy infected cells, killing the cancer, that would be very good news.

 

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