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Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation Awards $100,000 for Cancer Vaccine Research at University at Buffalo

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: July 22, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A promising new technique for developing a cancer vaccine has earned researchers in the University at Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences the university's first grant from the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation.

The $100,000 grant to the school's Department of Microbiology and Immunology will be used for research viewed as a key to eventual human clinical trials of a vaccine for fighting existing breast cancer.

The Mary Kay Ash Foundation, founded in 1996, is committed to eliminating cancers affecting women by supporting top medical scientists who are searching for a cure for breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers. The late Mary Kay Ash was founder and chairman emeritus of Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Margaret W. Paroski, M.D., UB interim vice president for health affairs and interim dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said that the university, like the Mary Kay Ash Foundation, has made breast-cancer research a priority.

"Mary Kay Ash developed a cosmetic company known for its excellent products and the opportunity it provided women in the workforce to have flexible work hours and a better quality of life," Paroski said. "Her concern for women continues to be reflected through her charitable foundation, which funds research on cancers that affect women. We are delighted to be the recipient of this generous grant."

Jennifer A. McDonough, vice president for university advancement, said that foundation support is crucial to research at UB.

"We at UB are grateful to the Mary Kay Ash Foundation not only for its generous grant to this research, but for partnering with us in this important effort to halt the devastating effects of cancer," McDonough said.

Richard B. Bankert, professor in UB's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, said he and colleagues already have met with success using their new approach on tumors in animal models, typically mice.

He explained that the technique involves injecting biodegradable microspheres that release cytokines, or growth factors, directly into a single nodule of a tumor. This "activates the mobilization of the inflammatory white blood cells locally, resulting in the killing of tumor cells in the nodule," he explained, and also creates "a systemic immune response that will go on to recognize and kill other tumors" in the animal.

"The dead and dying tumor cells release antigens into the circulation that stimulate a potent systemic anti-tumor immune response in the host's immunocompetent cells," Bankert said. "The systemically activated tumor-specific immunocompetent cells kill tumor cells at distant sites, in untreated metastatic tumor nodules, and establish a long-term tumor protective immunity that is expected to prevent the recurrence of the tumor."

The approach of the UB researchers differs from most previous attempts to develop cancer vaccines that have focused on the injection of either dead tumor cells or tumor-cell components (antigens) under the skin of mice or patients, according to Bankert.

Bankert said he and his colleagues developed and tested this novel vaccination protocol for human lung cancer, and now will test the in situ tumor vaccination strategy on human breast tumors using a human/mouse chimeric model developed at UB. Study results "are expected to help in the design of, and the rationale for, human clinical trials for in situ vaccination of breast-cancer patients," he said.