News Release

March 14, 2005

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

Activating Immune Response to Prostate Cancer

Combining Common Treatment with Cancer Fighting Vaccines

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Prostate cancer vaccines may prove to be most effective following hormone blocking therapy, according to a study published in the March 14 issue of the journal Cancer Cell.

"Currently, there’s a great deal of interest in developing vaccines that will stimulate the immune system to destroy tumors,” said study co-author Adam Adler, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at UConn Health Center. “One of the major challenges in developing tumor vaccines is that as tumors grow, the immune system looses the ability to respond to vaccines that target the tumors, because they are not recognized as being foreign, but rather as part of the body itself,” he said.

According to Adler, one of the most common treatments for advanced prostate cancer is hormone blockade, or depriving the tumor of the male hormones needed for its survival and growth. However, a small number of tumor cells inevitably continue to grow without male hormones, and eventually disease recurs. “It was our hope that prostate tumor vaccines would be able to destroy these remaining tumor cells that survive hormone-blockade, but we first had to understand what effect hormone-blocking might have on the ability of the immune system to respond to prostate tumor vaccines.”

Using a mouse model developed in collaboration with colleagues at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, the researchers observed that hormone-blocking restored the ability of the immune system to respond to vaccines targeting prostate tumors. “One of the most encouraging results of this study is the likelihood that prostate cancer vaccines will be the most effective following hormone-blocking,” said Adler. “We expect these results will lead to clinical trials that combine prostate tumor vaccines with hormone-blocking therapy.”

Prostate cancer is a slow growing disease that often has no symptoms for many years. When symptoms do occur, the disease may have spread beyond the prostate. The National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 200,000 men in the U.S. would be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004 and nearly 30,000 would die from the disease.

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