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Melanoma vaccine possible, say dermatologists.


Persons suffering from melanoma may be getting relief in the form of a vaccine developed from substances shed from melanoma cells themselves. Developers of the vaccine say their findings indicate either initial or increased responses in half the patients tested.

"Our findings suggest that the vaccine may be helpful in slowing the development of melanoma," says Dr. Jean-Claude Bystryn, professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine. Bystryn, leader of the study that developed the vaccine, spoke recently at the 47th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) in Washington, D.C. "In those patients who responded to the vaccine, development of the disease has been delayed by about two years," he said.

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, generally begins as an irregularly shaped black or brown spot on the skin. It is almost always fatal if it begins to spread beyond its initial site. Persons at high risk for developing the disease include those with fair skin or a family history of melanoma, especially if there is excessive sun exposure. An estimated 5800 Americans die each year from malignant melanoma; about 27,000 are newly diagnosed with the disease every year. The incidence of malignant melanoma is increasing at the rate of 3.4 percent per year.

The most frequently used current method for treating the disease is to surgically remove the tumor before it spreads beyond the initial site. A vaccine, on the other hand, could stimulate the body's immune system to react against the disease when controlled amounts of tumor extracts are injected into the body. Although Bystryn is not the only scientist currently working on a melanoma vaccine, the results of his study's experiments are worth noting. Besides the initial and/or increased immune responses mentioned earlier, about one-half of the 75 melanoma patients treated with the vaccine also demonstrated a stronger reaction by white blood cells to the disease (thereby enabling the patients' bodies to effectively ward off foreign substances and provide antibodies to keep the foreign matter away). None of the 75 patients demonstrated any toxic side effects from the vaccine, although Bystryn is not sure why the vaccine took hold in some of the patients and not in others. Although no one has been injected with the NYU vaccine as a preventive measure, Bystryn did report on studies he and his NYU colleagues have conducted on mice to test the vaccine's potential effectiveness. In the tests, the mice received equal amounts of the vaccination before the researchers injected the animals with enough melanoma cells to kill unvaccinated mice within two months. About nine out of 10 mice survived the treatment with the vaccine, Bystryn said.

"The work done so far is encouraging and suggestive," Bystryn told his AAD colleagues. "At this stage of development, it appears that we are on the right track, but the results are certainly not conclusive." He added that much work remains, especially true if he and his colleagues hope to obtain FDA approval for the vaccine.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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