Dendritic Cell Therapy
One of the most promising immunotherapies is Dendritic Cell Therapy (DCT), which found its way to the United States from Germany over two decades ago. DCT has proven to be very safe and effective in many contexts, but unfortunately the United States has been very slow in fully adapting it. One might ask, why? I am not entirely sure why, but suspect that part of the reason is that DCT is not a copyrightable pharmacological solution.
Dendritic cells are specialized white blood cells that are produced in the bone marrow. Their primary function is to identify and capture pathogens and then present them to killer T-cells in the lymph nodes. The T-cells then go on a search and destroy mission for the newly identified pathogen. DCT uses the body’s white blood cells to create a vaccine that will trigger an immune response that can accurately identify and kill cancer cells. Remember, cancer cells disguise themselves as normal cells, and they can also emit proteins that can disable certain elements of the immune system. DCT allows our immune cells to accurately identify cancer cells as pathogens.
A number of different types of DC therapy are being studied and used in clinical settings. In this section, we will examine two types of DCT therapy, one that uses a virus to help stimulate an immune response and one that does not. Both approaches come with relatively few side effects, especially the one that does not use a virus.
DCT has been used to treat cancer in Europe, particularly in Germany, for decades. Although it has been studied in the United States for several decades, it has not gained wide acceptance. One form of DCT that was popularized in Germany is now being used on a limited basis in the United States. It uses a poultry virus called the Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV). NDV is not harmful to humans but can infect cancer cells, which will then stimulate an immune response through the dendritic cells. To create the vaccine, blood is drawn from the patient and a sophisticated process is used to harvest cancer cells and a special type of white blood cell, called a dendritic cell. They culture the NDV with the patient’s dendritic cells to create something similar to a vaccine. The vaccine is injected into the patient to stimulate an immune response. The FDA approved the first NDV vaccine in 2010, called Dendreon's Provenge, which is used against prostate cancer. Several improved DC vaccines are currently in clinical trials with the expectation they will produce improved outcomes and ultimately be approved by the FDA. In certain cases patients with a cancer other than prostate cancer can apply for a compassionate use waiver by the FDA, which permits someone’s blood to be sent to a lab in Germany to produce the NDV-DC vaccine, and then shipped back to the United States.
Another type of DC therapy called Immune Support Therapy (IST), doesn’t use a virus to infect the cancer cell but relies entirely on the patient’s own immune cells. Clinical success rates are being reported as high as 80 percent for IST. This type of approach is called Adaptive Cell Transfer because it collects the patient’s own immune cells to create a vaccine. The dendritic cells are loaded up with antigens that have been exposed to the peptides that are specific to their cancer and are then able to present these identifiers to the body’s T cells. Once the T cells get the new information an immune response is initiated. IST does have some mild side effects that come as a result of stimulating an immune response, which include a low-grade fever, headache, fatigue, chills, or a mild skin rash at the sight of the tumor that may last from three to 14 days. These side effects are minor compared to current Immunotherapy drugs, including NDV-DC therapy. Although alternative IST has found its way to the United States, it is only offered by a very limited number of doctors in states that have patient friendly experimental cancer treatment laws.
IST and other safer immunotherapies are offered by Issels Immuno-Oncology and the Cancer Center for Healing. Both are located in California and are discussed in an upcoming section on alternative cancer centers.