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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

UPCI Vaccine Trial Offers Options for Patients With Slow-Growing Brain Tumors

PITTSBURGH, March 25, 2010 – A new vaccine trial available at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and Wake Forest University offers a treatment option for patients with low-grade gliomas, a slow-growing but lethal form of brain cancer. The phase one trial will evaluate the safety and immune response of a vaccine that targets the proteins typically made by glioma cells in combination with Poly-ICLC, an immune system stimulant.

The study is the first vaccine clinical trial specifically intended for the early stages of brain cancer development, according to principal investigator Hideho Okada, M.D., Ph.D., co-leader of UPCI’s Brain Tumor Program. Low-grade gliomas become deadly by eventually transforming into aggressive and rapidly growing tumors. By targeting tumors earlier in development, Dr. Okada and his team hope to induce protective immunity to prevent the growth of tumor cells. Current therapy for this disease is to manage the symptoms and remove or reduce the tumor.

The vaccine is completely synthetic and targets four of the most common antigens found in these brain tumors.

“We target multiple antigens because if you vaccinate against only one, tumor cells that do not produce that antigen can easily escape the immune attack and grow,” Dr. Okada explained. “Each cancer cell can have a different face than the other cancer cells next to it.”

To stimulate an immune response, he and his team created peptides, which are short chains of amino acids that resemble the antigens and combined them with a helper peptide as well as the potent immune enhancer poly-ICLC. Poly-ICLC is a synthetic molecule that mimics the molecular signature of viruses. It does not grow in patients’ bodies, but sends strong signals to activate an immune response against the glioma proteins.

“Patients with low-grade gliomas have a better quality of life for a longer period of time than those with high-grade gliomas,” said Dr. Okada. “They have healthier immune systems because they don’t require radiation therapy or chemotherapy, giving us plenty of time to measure their immune responses.”

Patients who are eligible and enroll in the trial will receive eight vaccinations and will be followed for up to two years. Patients with a favorable response may be eligible for a booster vaccination. For more information or for a patient referral, contact Dr. Okada at

This study is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.

About UPCI

As the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, UPCI is a recognized leader in providing innovative cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment; bio-medical research; compassionate patient care and support; and community-based outreach services. UPCI investigators are world-renowned for their work in clinical and basic cancer research.

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