YOUR HEALTH: Testing an individualized cancer vaccine

SAN DIEGO, California – Researchers at UC-San Diego Health and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology are working on a cancer vaccine that's specific for each patient.

It's specifically created according to a patient's own cancer mutations and immune system.

It's a clinical trial that is only for people with metastatic cancer like Tamara Strauss.

In fact, she is patient number one.

"Having cancer, I mean anything that presents itself as a solution or a cure, you're going to jump on the bandwagon."

Tamara beat pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer twice.

Now it's back, and it's stage four.

Her doctors say everyone`s cancer and immune system are different, so they are treating them differently.

"If we were going to think about curing patients with metastatic disease, with advanced cancer, then we had to design therapies that were really individual," explained Dr. Ezra Cohen, associate director of Translational Science at UC-San Diego Health's Moores Cancer Center.

The team tested Tamara's tumor and identified neoantigens, or mutations her immune system responds to.

They cultured the neoantigens with Tamara's T-cells and gave her a series of three vaccines.

Dr. Cohen said they worried the T-cells would reach the tumor and be deactivated.  So they added keytruda.

"What the keytruda does, is that essentially, it keeps those T-cells from falling asleep once they get to the tumor, and so hopefully, once that happens, those T-cells destroy the cancer," said Dr. Cohen.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   Vaccines are a form of immunotherapy.   They are usually given during the beginning stages, but that is changing.   In a new study, there are vaccines that can be used to help not only stop the growth of the cancer, but it can also help prevent it from coming back and remove any leftover cancer cells from other treatments.   There are four types of cancer vaccines: antigen, whole cell, DNA and dendritic cell.   Antigen helps stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer by using the protein antigen to help.   Whole cell uses a patient's own cancer cells to treat.   DNA vaccines take the DNA from the cancer cells and put them into cells of the immune system to help them identify and eliminate other cancer cells.   Dendritic cells are grown in a lab and used to help strengthen the immune system to get rid of the cancer that is in the system.   There are many clinical trials to learn more about what is going on.

It's only been four months since Tamara began the trial, but a mid-treatment CT scan was promising.

Tamara's parents donated a million dollars to fund this trial, hoping to help her.

They've already lost another daughter to cancer.

The trial will enroll ten patients and only has three now. doctors are looking for patients with any kind of slow-growing metastatic cancer.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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