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PHILADELPHIA - In a seemingly unlikely pairing, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Assistant Professor Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, and colleagues at the School of Veterinary Medicine, are enlisting man's best friend in the fight against cancer. Family dogs that have cancer are being sent into remission by combining conventional chemotherapy with a novel therapy based on revving up the patient's own immune system.

Vonderheide, who is also a researcher at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, is developing a cancer vaccine using immune system cells called B cell lymphocytes that one day might have particular application for children with cancer or adults with breast cancer. This vaccine relies on removing immune cells from a patient's blood, activating the cells in the lab, and then putting the activated cells back into the patient to trigger an anti-tumor response.

In an initial test in human cells, Vonderheide was able to kill neuroblastoma cells isolated from children with cancer when they were mixed with the patients' activated immune cells. Although this approach may one day be used for pediatric and adult cancer patients, the team needed to take a conservative next step in its clinical development.

Working with Drs. Karin Sorenmo and Nicola Mason at Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine, Vonderheide is now testing the B-cell therapy in dogs with lymphoma that are family pets. Only the dogs that go into remission following chemotherapy receive the B-cell vaccine. So far, four out of the nine dogs on the trial have gone into remission and have been free of cancer for at least 12 months. The vaccine also appears safe, with the dogs showing minimal side effects.

"This really shows the power of what a comprehensive cancer center can do when colleagues across the entire campus get together," says Vonderheide "This type of comparative oncology research is important and uniquely accelerating at Penn."

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PENN Medicine is a $3.5 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is currently ranked #3 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's survey of top research-oriented medical schools; and, according to most recent data from the National Institutes of Health, received over $379 million in NIH research funds in the 2006 fiscal year. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals — its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center — a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

The Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) of the University of Pennsylvania is a national leader in cancer research, patient care, and education. The pre-eminent position of the Cancer Center is reflected in its continuous designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute for 30 years, one of 39 such Centers in the United States. The ACC is dedicated to innovative and compassionate cancer care. The clinical program, comprised of a dedicated staff of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, physical therapists, nutritionists and patient support specialists, currently sees over 50,000 outpatient visits, 3400 inpatient admissions, and provides over 25,000 chemotherapy treatments, and more than 65,000 radiation treatments annually. Not only is the ACC dedicated to providing state-of-the-art cancer care, the latest forms of cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are available to our patients through clinical themes that developed in the relentless pursuit to eliminate the pain and suffering from cancer. In addition, the ACC is home to the 300 research scientists who work relentlessly to determine the pathogenesis of cancer. Together, the faculty is committed to improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


Release available online at http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/nov07/cancer-vet.html