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DNA vaccine with immunotherapy may treat HPV cancers

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is frequently associated with the human papillomavirus.

By Amy Wallace
A new vaccine has been created to activate the immune system response in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, or HNSCCa, associated with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Photo by royaltystockphoto/Shutterstock
A new vaccine has been created to activate the immune system response in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, or HNSCCa, associated with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Photo by royaltystockphoto/Shutterstock

May 31 (UPI) -- A new vaccine therapy has the potential to generate immune responses in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, or HNSCCa, in patients with the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania created the new vaccine to generate immune responses in patients with HNSCCa by targeting HPV, a sexually-transmitted disease, which is associated with HNSCCa.

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HPV is one of the most common sexually-transmitted diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and nearly all sexually active adults will contract it at some point in their lifetimes.

HNSCCa is a cancer that develops in the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. Known causes of HNSCCa include smoking, tobacco use and HPV infection.

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Nearly 70 percent of all throat cancers in the United States are HPV-related, with 60 percent being caused by a subtype of HPV known as HPV 16/18.

"This is the subtype we target with this new therapy, and we're the only site in the country to demonstrate immune activation with this DNA based immunotherapeutic vaccine for HPV 16/18 associated head and neck cancer," Dr. Charu Aggarwal, an assistant professor of Hematology Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a press release.

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For the study, researchers treated 22 patients with the vaccine, which is delivered as an injection of antigens causing the immune system to start producing antibodies and activate immune cells. Physicians use a special device to deliver a pulse of electricity to the area to stimulate the muscles and hasten the intake of antigens.

RELATED CDC: Nearly half of U.S. adults are infected with HPV

"The data show the therapy is targeted and specific, but also safe and well-tolerated," Aggarwal said.

The study was presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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