Pitt researchers test colon cancer jab

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have begun testing a vaccine that they believe could prevent colon cancer in people at high risk for developing the disease. And it might spare patients the risk and inconvenience of repeated invasive surveillance tests, such as colonoscopies, that are now necessary to spot and remove precancerous polyps.

The Pitt vaccine is directed against an abnormal variant of a self-made cell protein called MUC1, which is altered and produced in excess in advanced adenomas and cancer. Vaccines currently in use to prevent cancer work via a different mechanism, specifically by blocking infection with viruses that are linked with cancer.

"By stimulating an immune response against the MUC1 protein in these precancerous growths, we may be able to draw the immune system's fire to attack and destroy the abnormal cells," said Robert E. Schoen, M.D., professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. "That might not only prevent progression to cancer, but even polyp recurrence."

About a dozen people have received the experimental vaccine so far, and the researchers intend to enroll another 50 or so into the study. Pitt's colon cancer vaccine is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and The Nathan S. Arenson Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Its adjuvant component was developed Washington, D.C.-based Oncovir.

- check out the press release for more info