A dendritic vaccine is a vaccine for the treatment of cancer involving the use of the body's own dendritic cells, specialized immune cells responsible for presenting antigens to the body's T-cells for destruction. To produce the vaccine, dendritic cells are harvested from a patient, exposed to tumor cells in culture, and then reinfused. The sensitized cells lock onto tumor cells in the body to target them for destruction by the immune system. The term “vaccine” here is somewhat misleading, as the dendritic vaccine does not prevent cancer; it helps treat it.
As of 2010, dendritic vaccine treatment was still under investigation in the case of most cancers. Rather than being used as a first line of treatment for patients, it was available through clinical trials for patients who did not respond to more conventional treatments. Clinical trials are used to collect important data for the development of new medical treatments, ranging from developing appropriate treatment techniques to refining dosages.
Dendritic cells are found naturally in low concentrations throughout the body. As their name, derived from the word for “tree,” suggests, they have a branched appearance. They are part of the immune system and work by locking onto antigens and presenting them to the killer cells like T-cells and NK cells, allowing the immune system to eliminate foreign proteins from the body. The dendritic vaccine takes advantage of this trait and harnesses it to work more efficiently and quickly.
This is an example of cell-based immunotherapy treatment, where the patient's own body is used to develop treatments for disease. Side effects from such treatment are radically reduced, as they harness natural processes rather than introducing chemical compounds into the body, and the treatment can be tailored to the specifics of the patient's case to target the cancer. Such treatments tend to be expensive, as they require considerable work and preparation, and they may not be accessible to all patients.
If dendritic vaccine treatment is an option for a cancer patient, an oncologist will discuss it and provide more information about how and where to access the treatment. Success rates with different cancers are quite variable and can also vary between studies. Participants in clinical trials should also be aware of the increased risks involved in participating in medical research. The researchers will provide detailed information about the nature of the research and how the information will be used, and patients are encouraged to ask questions if they are uncertain or unclear on any concepts.