Scientists try and make pancreatic tumors more treatable

Researchers in the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed and begun testing a vaccine that can "reprogram" pancreatic cancers to potentially make them more treatable.

Pancreatic cancer is among the most fatal types of cancer. It isn't often caught early and generally becomes resistant to standard chemotherapy drugs.


This study was conducted on those with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas, the most common form of the cancer and one that gives patients just a five percent chance of surviving five years.

The reprogramming makes the tumors vulnerable to immune-based therapies, which use the body's own immune system to fight the cancer.


The study was published in the June 18 issue of Cancer Immunology Research.

This disease doesn't typically trigger an immune response against the cancer cells, according to Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, the researcher who develop the vaccine. But the vaccine was able to reprogram tumors to include T cells, which are a type of white blood cells key to the body's cancer-fighting immune response.

The vaccine, called GVAX, is made of irradiated tumor cells modified to recruit immune cells to a tumor, according to Jaffee, the Dana and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli Professor of Oncology in Hopkins' School of Medicine.

They tested the vaccine along with another drug, cyclophosphamide, typically used to treat cancers of the immune system.

Jaffee's colleague helping test the vaccine, Dr. Lei Zheng, said they created new potential targets within the tumor for immune-modulating drugs. The researchers have more tests planned.