Scientists have discovered that a protein in the male testes could actually help prevent the relapse of a cancer specific to women. We’re talking ovarian cancer. They’ve even recently tested this protein as a vaccine. The results were pretty promising. Before we get to that, let’s review ovarian cancer.
This type of cancer starts with abnormal cells in or on the ovaries. These are the egg-producing organs in a woman’s body. They also produce the essential female hormones. The abnormal cells in or on the ovaries can turn into a malignant tumor. This is what’s known as ovarian cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the year 2007 should see about 22,430 new cases of ovarian cancer. Around 15,280 women are not expected to survive the disease. And that’s just this year. Ovarian cancer is indeed a dangerous disease. It’s the fifth most lethal cancer in women. These numbers underscore the importance of finding a way to prevent ovarian cancer.
That’s what’s driving the research, including this latest clinical trial. Researchers from Buffalo, New York, did a small preliminary study. They looked at 18 women who had already had ovarian cancer. The goal was to see if a new vaccine could prevent reoccurrences of the cancer.
The vaccine tested was made from a protein called “NY- ESO-1.” This protein is produced in a man’s testes. Women also carry the gene for it, but it is usually inactive. It has been found that 40% of women with ovarian tumors have this gene switched on. So their bodies are producing NY- ESO-1. This is one suspected cause behind ovarian cancer. So, you know how the flu vaccine contains deactivated flu viruses? This potential vaccine against ovarian tumor reoccurrence contains NY-ESO-1. The goal is to boost the immune system’s ability to recognize and kill cells with the protein, thus prevent tumors from growing.
Okay, so the clinical test was done only on women with the NY-ESO-1 gene turned on. All of the participants had had ovarian cancer. But at the time of the study, all of them were tumor-free. Even so, ovarian tumors have a tendency to come back.
The research team gave the women up to five NY-ESO-1 injections over a period of four months. The results? A whopping 83% of the women experienced an improvement in their immune response. Specifically, they developed immune cells that targeted the cancer-causing protein. These test subjects held out against a tumor reoccurrence for an average of a year. Meanwhile, the remaining 17% had an ovarian cancer relapse within an average of six months. The only side effects seen were pain and rash where the protein was injected.
While promising, this trial is far from conclusive. But it is a good basis for further study. A second trial is already planned to test the potential ovarian cancer vaccine. The researchers have made improvements to the vaccine, so they hope to see even better results. Although the NY-ESO- 1 injections are currently only targeting women who’ve already had this cancer, it could lead to more wide-reaching benefits, including the possibility of preventing ovarian cancer from occurring at all in women who have the active NY-ESO-1 gene.