Dendritic cells are the directors of the immune system. They license and stimulate the killer cells of the immune system - the T lymphocytes - to attack their targets, e.g. virus-infected cells and cancer cells.
Since 2005, the Division of Hematology of the Antwerp University Hospital (Universitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen) has been carrying out clinical studies with dendritic cells in cancer patients. The intention is to stimulate the immune system of the patient into attacking its own cancer. In order to do this, white blood cells are collected from the blood of the patient and are brought to the Center for Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine (Centrum voor Celtherapie en Regeneratieve Geneeskunde (CCRG)), the cell therapy facility of the Antwerp University Hospital.
There, part of the white blood cells are cultured during eight days in sterile conditions in certified 'clean rooms' and are modified to become dendritic cells. The dendritic cells are then collected and a signal is brought into them, leading to the presentation of a cancer-related signal on their surface.
This signal will serve to stimulate the killer T lymphocytes, which will go on to recognize the same message on the surface of the cancer cells, potentially everywhere in the body, and to kill them. The dendritic cells produced are frozen in aliquots and the patient is injected on a regular and ambulatory basis in the skin with the thawed content of one vial.