• 7/15/2006
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Karl B. Hille
  • Examiner.com

A possible cure for some types of mouth, larynx and throat cancer is being tested at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

University researchers have begun testing “Trojan peptide” vaccines to treat squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of head and neck cancer. The vaccine targets specific proteins made by tumors, and in theory can stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy the cancer.

“It’s really founded on very strong science,” said Dr. Scott Strome, who developed the vaccine and stands to benefit if it becomes an approved treatment.

Currently, researchers are accepting patients for Phase I trials, which test the safety of a new therapy. If it proves safe, further trials will test the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Strome said the vaccine is experimental and it is not known yet if it will reduce or eliminate patients’ tumors. Researchers hope the vaccine therapy will improve the survival rate and quality of life for patients. Cancers of the head and neck — including those of the throat, mouth, voice box, sinuses, salivary glands and skin — are often difficult to treat and have a high risk of recurrence, according to information provided by the University of Maryland. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Much larger than traditional vaccine molecules, these peptides contain approximately 40 to 50 amino acids, Strome said.

Researchers believe these larger peptides may trigger a stronger, two-pronged response by the body’s immune system. The vaccines prepare white blood cells to go after the cells that form them.

They also contain a peptide sequence that helps to transport the proteins into cancerous cells that “present” them to the body’s immune system.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine is seeking to patent the vaccines.

More than 40,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with head and neck cancer, and about half will die of the disease. Smoking has been linked to some cancers, but physicians are seeing an increase in this type of cancer in people who do not smoke.

Strome expects to enroll up to 90 patients over the next two to three years in the clinical trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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