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  • Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 21 November 2007 Referencing Hub media

    Julie Walton from New Zealand's Malaghan Institute of Medical Research explains how you can use a patient's own cells to power an immune response to the cancerous cells.

    This clip was produced in conjunction with NZBio.


    Julie Walton, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

    This trial is particularly important for New Zealand, because melanoma actually has the highest incidence in the world in New Zealand and a lot of people that do contract melanoma may eventually die from it particularly at the later stage. We are hoping eventually to have a clinical therapy available for patients in New Zealand.

    At the moment a lot of off-the-shelf drugs don’t necessarily work for all people, and that may be because it’s missing some of the epitopes; they may be new; they may just not be targeted by the drugs that we have at the moment.

    For this project we are making vaccines for patients from their own tumours and from their own blood cells. Basically we are activating their immune system in the lab and then giving it back to the patient, which produces an immune response, which is able to fight the cancer .

    That vaccine is made from their own peripheral blood cells, just their normal blood cells. We grow those for a while and we are able to differentiate them into different types of cells. We produce something called a dendritic cell . They are basically sentinels of the immune system. Once we have the dendritic cells in culture, we can then take the tumour which we receive at the time of biopsy, and we irradiate that, so we kill it, and then we feed the tumour back to the dendritic cells and the dendritic cells will then start expressing the tumour antigens on their surface. So they are basically primed to recognise the tumour cells. And we are able to give that back to a patient; we only have to give very small numbers of dendritic cells to the patients. Then those go to the lymph nodes and initiate an immune response. So it’s the immune response from the T-cells , which actually stimulates the cancer-fighting ability in the body.

    The actual vaccine itself takes approximately two weeks to make, so it’s quite a labour intensive programme. But the benefits, or the potential benefits, are very high.

    With the role I have here at the Malaghan Institute - because I’m helping with the clinical trial work - we actually get to work with patients. And that really is very exciting. We get to see people that are not well; they don’t have many options. And then we offer them something that may work for them.

    At a clinical trial level, you can’t necessarily promise that everything is going to be perfect, but you can certainly give them the option. And that’s the most exciting really, is seeing people, and hopefully having a lot of recoveries.

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