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MUSC Doctors working to develop oral cancer vaccine

Hollings Cancer Center

Courtesy of WCIV-TV Charleston Channel 4

A group of doctors are working on a life changing vaccine at the Medical University of South Carolina which could impact millions of patients.

Three doctors are combining their skills of oral cancer research, surgery, and cellular therapy to stop the reoccurrence rate of oral cancer.

It’s a project made possible by funding received from the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

Health officials say oral cancer typically comes back within the first two years a patient first undergoes surgery, but the hope is this vaccine will expand a patient’s immune cells to fight off any sight of a tumor.

“That’s the whole thing about expanding cells that are coming from the patient’s own body, their tumor and we try to expand it for that patient only and put it back in the patient as a strategy,” said Dr. Shikkhar Mehrotra, the scientific director of the Center for Cellular Therapy. “So once they have gone through their trial treatment they can be injected with these long cells and hang on for long periods of time.”

According to health officials, oral cancer is one of the most common types of cancer.

Once patients are diagnosed, the treatment choice is surgery with a three month checkup to follow to make sure the cancer has not returned. The goal is that eventually this vaccine will become a part of the treatment process, to stop a return of the cancer before it even starts.

“The reality is that we don’t have a lot of preventative measures to reduce the chance that these cancers come back so working on something like a vaccine to reduce the rate of occurrence is like a game changer to have a positive impact on the patient,” said Dr. Jason Newman, the Head and Neck Cancer Division director. “And if it comes back, harnessing the patients immune system to help reduce the chance that they will suffer from the disease. It will also identify something foreign and help fight the disease as it happens and before it grows.”

The project will continue in the laboratory phase before it can begin to start being used on patients, but doctors feel hopeful this project will be successful.

“We have to make sure it works in a library setting then make sure it works in a patient and then it will become a clinical trial,” said Dr. Angela Yoon, a professor in the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine. “But it is not a quick study you have to go through the FDA, there are a lot of steps involved.”

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval could take up to years but the hope is that this vaccine will have a 100% cure rate.

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Tamia Sumpter

Tamia is a driven senior undergraduate Bioengineering student currently enrolled at Clemson University. With a strong foundation in her field, she has honed her skills through hands-on experience in research and development at Eli Lilly & Company. During her time in the ADME department, Tamia contributed significantly by working on siRNAs and their applications in finding In Vitro-In Vivo Correlation (IVIVC). Looking ahead, Tamia has set her sights on a promising career in law. She aspires to specialize in Intellectual Property Law, with a particular focus on serving as in-house counsel for leading medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Her enthusiasm for this role is palpable as she prepares to embark on her legal journey! She is also a proud member of the Omicron Phi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., PEER Mentor for Clemson PEER/WiSE, and currently serves as the President of Clemson Bioengineering Organization (CBO). With her unique blend of scientific knowledge and legal interests, Tamia is poised to make a meaningful impact in the healthcare and life sciences industries.