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Melanoma Vaccine Aims To Stop Deadly Disease

Posted at 1:15 PM, Jul 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-30 16:46:28-04

ST LOUIS (Ivanhoe Newswire) - The skin is the largest organ of the body, so it’s no wonder that skin cancer is the most common cancer of them all. In fact, 3.5 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. Seventy-three thousand of them will be told they have melanoma — a cancer with no cure. Now doctors are working on a personalized vaccine that could stop this deadly disease in its tracks.

Kent Haffer’s yard is popping with color. He’s been landscaping since he was a kid so he wasn’t surprised to find out he had melanoma. What was surprising was where it showed up.

“I always had long pants, why it showed up on my calf, no one knows,” Haffer told Ivanhoe.

His dermatologist burned it off. Two years later another one popped up. A pet scan revealed even more.

“I looked like a light bulb. Everything lit up,” he explained.

Surgeries, chemo and drugs have put Kent’s cancer into remission. Now he’s receiving a personalized melanoma cancer vaccine.

“Cancer medicine is in the midst of a very dramatic shift away from a conventional set of toxic chemotherapies toward new treatments and approaches that can exploit genetic changes or alterations in the cancer genome,” Gerald Linette, MD, PhD, Oncologist at the Washington University in St. Louis told Ivanhoe.

By sequencing Kent’s genome, researchers at Washington University can tell which cells are cancerous.

The personalized vaccine is then made to help the immune system identify those cells and destroy them.

“It’s customized for each patient because these mutations turn out to be unique for each individual patient,” Dr. Linette said.

Today, Kent’s cancer remains in remission. He hopes his story will inspire others to never give up.

“If you get melanoma, put up your fists and be ready to fight,” Haffer said.

The vaccine is given by IV every six weeks for a total of three times. Dr. Linette believes this same type of personalized cancer vaccine could also work on other cancers such as lung, breast and kidney cancers.

The next step is a larger clinical trial and if everything works out we could see personalized vaccines used to fight cancers in the next five to 10 years.