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"They get a pancreas cancer cell, kill it, hook it up to other factors, and then they inject it into you like they would any other vaccine."
As a retired pharmacist, Jesse Cugini, 65, knew that science advances through research. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008, he was receptive to the idea of contributing to that research through a clinical trial. After having surgery to remove his tumor, Jesse enrolled in a clinical trial of a cancer vaccine being pioneered by Cancer Research Institute scientist Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.
The cancer vaccine, called GVAX, is composed of pancreatic tumor cells that have been genetically engineered to produce a molecule called GM-CSF, which is known to stimulate the immune system. These cells are first irradiated to weaken them, and then injected under the skin. The idea is that the GM-CSF will stimulate immune cells called dendritic cells to pick up tumor antigens, present them to T cells, and trigger an immune response.
Jesse has been receiving the vaccine for 5 years now. A CT scan in February 2014 showed that he was still free of disease. TheAnswertoCancer (TheA2C) spoke to him while he was traveling on vacation in sunny California with his wife, Flavia.
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