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Leukemia Vaccine Developed in Britain


Scientists at King's College London have developed a vaccine for leukemia that can be used to prevent the return of the disease after chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant. The first patients to be treated have the form of leukemia known as acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), the most common form in adults.

About Leukemia
Leukemia is a malignant cancer of the bone marrow and blood that is characterized by an uncontrollable accumulation of blood cells. The term leukemia is used to describe four different types of the disease: acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic myelogenous leumemia (CML), and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, AML is the most common type among adults, while CLL is found most often in children. About 44,270 adults and 4,220 children developed leukemia in 2008 in the United States. In Great Britain, about 7,200 people per year are diagnosed.

All types of leukemia begin in a cell in the bone marrow. When cells undergo leukemic changes, they multiply and are better able to survive than normal cells. Over time, the leukemic cells crowd out normal cells. Without treatment AML progresses rapidly, while CLL tends to progress more slowly. Overall, half the people with leukemia die within five years of diagnosis.

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King’s College Study
The leukemia vaccine developed by researchers at King’s College London is due to be tested on patients for the first time. Study participants have AML which, even with aggressive treatment, typically returns in about 50 percent of patients. Initially, patients will be enrolled in the study if they have had chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Depending on the success of this stage of the trial, researchers will then test the vaccine in patients who cannot have a bone marrow transplant because a match cannot be found or because they are not suited for one.

Farzin Farzaneh, Professor of Molecular Medicine in the Department of Haemato-oncology at the College, noted in the news release that if the trials with the vaccine are successful, it could be used to treat other leukemias. “It is the same concept as normal vaccines. The immune system is made to see something as foreign and can then destroy it itself. This has the chance to be curative,” he said.

The leukemia vaccine is created by removing cells from a patient’s blood and changing them in the laboratory. Each vaccine carries two genes into the body’s immune system. These genes act as flags, which help identify the leukemia so the immune system can find and destroy the cancer cells.

Work on the leukemia vaccine has been ongoing for 20 years. The researchers hope that the vaccine will eventually be useful in the treatment of other leukemias and other types of cancers.

King’s College London, news release Jan. 5, 2010
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society