Vaccines are a perennially controversial subject in veterinary (and human) medicine. As I have mentioned many times on this blog, nobody knows with any true certainty how often pets should receive vaccines (although plenty of people have strong opinions about the matter).
Over the last several years, the trend in the veterinary community has been to vaccinate pets less often. But researchers are discovering new uses for vaccines that might reverse that trend.
Historically, vaccines have been used to protect individuals from communicable diseases such as parvovirus. However, a new generation of vaccines is likely to emerge in the next decade to combat an entirely different problem: cancer.
In fact, anti-cancer vaccines already exist. The vaccine for human papilloma virus is, in essence, a vaccine against cervical cancer in people. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, veterinary oncologists are using a vaccine to help treat oral melanoma in dogs.
A veritable army of researchers is exploring new ways to use vaccines to fight cancer. And the work is paying off. An article in the May 31, 2008 issue of The Economist discusses the results of clinical trials of a vaccine against a highly deadly type of brain tumor. An excerpt from the article is below.
A piece of research expected to be unveiled on June 1st by Duane Mitchell of Duke University . . . hints that glioblastomas, the most lethal form of brain tumor, may . . . be susceptible to vaccination.
There are two means by which vaccines may be used to fight cancer. The first is to vaccinate against cancer-causing viruses (this is the basis for the vaccines against cervical cancer and glioblastoma). The second is to give a vaccine that stimulates the body’s immune system to attack cancerous cells (this is how the canine melanoma vaccine works).
Cancer is a leading killer of pets and people. Vaccines may prove to be a very important tool for fighting cancer in the future.