With a childhood history of “a gazillion sunburns” and following multiple surgeries for melanoma, Massachusetts-based writer Martha Pfeiffer qualified for a pioneering Dana-Farber Cancer Institute study isolating patients’ tumor cell DNA for personalized vaccination potential.
The procedure enabled scientists to perform genetic mapping, successfully isolate mutated cells, and then “cook” with the mutations to develop a vaccine uniquely customized to the individual patient’s immune system.
Like remedies for other diseases now thwarted by vaccinations, this method trains the immune system to target the cancer cells while sparing healthy ones. Unlike previous vaccines, however, cancer vaccines would be developed as treatment rather than as a preventive measure.
Since this innovation is in its early stages, extensive clinical trials remain on the horizon. Pfeiffer is one of only six melanoma patients in the Dana-Farber program; regardless of outcome, she remains at the forefront of research through her participation.
"I'm going on the assumption that this is working," Pfeiffer said in a recent posting on WBUR's website, expressing optimism about her role in the work.
Jesse Boehm, an associate director of the cancer program at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Broad Institute, a biomedicine company specializing in genomics, indicated that individualized cancer treatment has the potential for great strides.
"You're beginning to see how scientists have cracked the code that distinguishes individual cancers and the individual immune system on a patient-by-patient basis," Boehm said, according to BBC News.