A new cancer treatment which strengthens a patient’s immune system and enables them to fight the disease more effectively is being trialled on patients for the first time in the UK. The treatment will use a new DNA vaccine, developed by scientists from the University of Southampton, which will treat a selected group of volunteers who have either chronic or acute myeloid leukaemia – two forms of bone marrow and blood cancer. Scientists believe they can control the disease by vaccinating patients against a cancer-associated gene (Wilm’s Tumour gene 1), found ‘expressed’ in almost all chronic and acute leukaemias. A team of researchers and health practitioners, led by Professor Christian Ottensmeier of the University of Southampton Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and Dr Katy Rezvani of Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, hope to recruit up to 180 patients to the trial which will take place at hospitals in Southampton, London and Exeter over the next two years. The research is funded by the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) programme, which is financed by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). “In chronic myeloid leukaemia, current treatment can reduce the cancer but the drug needs to be taken indefinitely and has unpleasant side effects. Prognosis of acute myeloid leukaemia is currently poor and better treatments are urgently needed,” comments Christian Ottensmeier, professor of experimental cancer medicine at the University of Southampton and consultant oncologist at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust. “We have already demonstrated that this new type of DNA vaccine is safe and can successfully activate the immune systems in patients with cancer of the prostate, bowel and lung. We believe it will prove to be beneficial to patients with acute and chronic myeloid leukaemia.” In the study, each participant will receive six doses of DNA vaccine over a six month period, with further booster vaccinations if successful. The vaccine will be administered in a groundbreaking new way, using electroporation, in which controlled, rapid electrical pulses create permeability in cell membranes and enable increased uptake of biological material after its injection into muscle or skin tissue. The electroporation system was developed by the US pharmaceutical company Inovio.