Leukaemia vaccine on cards

December 7, 2001

An effective leukaemia vaccine could be available within a few years following a breakthrough by scientists at Nottingham Trent University.

Robert Rees, Colin Creaser and Philip Bonner, of the department of biomedical sciences, chemistry and physics, have found a way to boost a patient's immune system to destroy the abnormal blood cells that cause chronic myeloid leukaemia. The disease affects mainly adults over the age of 30 and claims about 1,000 victims a year in the United Kingdom.

Professor Rees's team has the go-ahead for clinical trials with a £350,000 grant by the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund. It will take at least two years before the vaccine can be developed and tested.

Using cancer cells taken from patients, the scientists discovered peptides derived from a protein uniquely associated with chronic myeloid leukaemia on the outside of the cells. These peptides were shown to activate T-cell immunity, capable of destroying all cells expressing this protein marker, while ignoring healthy cells. The research could help people suffering from other types of leukaemia.

Richard Clark, a consultant haematologist at Liverpool University, said: "A major puzzle has been why the immune system does not simply destroy the leukaemia before it has a chance to grow and cause symptoms. To our great surprise, we found that a patient's immune system was already able to respond to their leukaemia. We are hopeful that we can harness these findings to boost the patient's own immune system."

This breakthrough follows seven years of research at Nottingham Trent and the Anthony Nolan Research Centre based in London and Liverpool University.

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