Multiple Myeloma

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Vaccines for Multiple Myeloma

Dr. Irene Ghobrial Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

There are diseases which actually precede multiple myeloma and now researchers are trying to figure out how these diseases might be treated before they develop into cancer.

Precursor conditions such as MGUS and smoldering myeloma don’t have symptoms but can increase your yearly risk of developing active myeloma. The goal of current research into precursor conditions is to find ways to prevent progression into active disease. We asked Dr. Irene Ghobrial from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to discuss vaccination for multiple myeloma, one promising prevention method her lab is currently pursuing.

Typically, foreign infections or diseases are detected by the immune system as dangerous to the body and attacked by immune cells. Dr. Ghobrial explains that cancer cells are unusual in that they can camouflage themselves from this detection. She says, “Yet cancer cells are smart enough and they develop something, sort of a shield, to prevent immune cells from recognizing them.”

With vaccines, oncologists are able to more clearly show the immune cells the markers on cancer cells, known as neoantigens. In doing so, the immune system can break through that “shield” once active myeloma appears, recognize cancer cells as diseased, and attack them. Dr. Ghobrial understands that cancer must be tackled in many different ways for successful treatment, but this is one more innovative way to treat, delay, and, hopefully, prevent progression of the disease.

Unlike many bacteria and viruses, every individual patient’s cancer cells differ from another individual’s. Thus, researchers are developing vaccines tailored to each individual patient’s myeloma–this type of medicine is known as precision medicine. To do so, oncologists first determine the neoantigens that your cancer cells have, and then tailor your vaccine to present those specific markers to your immune system. “That’s the future of cancer vaccines,” says Ghobrial.

Cancer vaccines are currently only approved in clinical trials, but you should consult your physician about them if you have recently been diagnosed with a precursor condition like MGUS or smoldering myeloma to see if you are eligible to receive a vaccine.

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Dr. Irene Ghobrial is a Medical Oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Read More