Doctor Targets Genes to Create Colon Cancer Vaccine

A shot that prevents colon cancer? It almost sounds too good to be true, but researchers at the University of Washington are working to make this dream a reality.

Mary (Nora) Disis, M.D., professor of medicine and adjunct professor of pathology and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington, is leading a team of researchers to create what will hopefully be the first vaccine to protect against colon cancer. Disis and her team of researchers are working to identify genes that will prompt the body to generate immune cells to fight off cancer cells in their early developmental stages

Disis was recently awarded with the American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor grant, which is being used to fund her research. Currently, Disis and her team are working to determine which genes are necessary for cancer growth and the immune system’s ability to recognize and target these genes. “We have identified a couple hundred genes that would be reasonable targets for a prevention vaccine," said Disis. Now the primary challenge is determining which genes would be useful in the cancer vaccine.

“We are in the screening phase now, but we hope that with the help of the American Cancer Society grant that we will be able to accelerate getting testing into mice pretty quickly," adds Disis. “We think it will take about three years to be able to sort through all our (gene) candidates and come up with a vaccine to show efficacy in mice; from there it will take another year to do extensive testing to make sure it would be safe to do human clinical trials."

Although there is still a considerable amount of work to be done, Disis believes this vaccine could potentially be used for individuals with an increased risk of colon cancer, such as those with a family history of the disease or those with a personal history of polyposis syndrome, a hereditary condition that increases the risk of developing polyps in the digestive tract (Source: EndoNurse).

While the thought of a colon cancer vaccine is certainly encouraging, for now, the best way to prevent colon cancer is through routine colonoscopies and healthy lifestyle choices. If you are over the age of 50 and haven’t been screened for colon cancer, don’t waste another minute! Prevention is the key to living a long and healthy life, so call your doctor today.

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