Viruses are Vaccines' New Anti-Cancer Weapon

They prime the immune system to attack malignant cells, scientists say

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FRIDAY, Feb. 25, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- The natural infectious power of four viruses could be the key to battling colon cancer, according to research underway at Duke University's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Scientists are using the viruses -- vaccinia, fowlpox, adenovirus and alphavirus -- to provoke the body's immune system into battling colon cancer cells.

"Cancer has a knack for eluding the immune system and masking itself as friend instead of foe," lead researcher and cancer center director Dr. H. Kim Lyerly said in a prepared statement. "We've designed vaccines that more forcefully present cancer as the enemy to the patient's immune system than earlier vaccines have been able to do."

The most promising strategy under investigation is a one-two punch called "prime and boost." In it, one vaccine is used to alert or "prime" the immune system, while a second vaccine boosts the momentum of its response.

The five-year research and clinical project is being funded by a $10 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Two biotechnology companies, Alphavax Human Vaccines Inc. and Therion Biologics, will collaborate with Duke in the research.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more about cancer vaccines.

SOURCES: Duke University's Comprehensive Cancer Center, news release, Feb. 23, 2005

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