Breakthrough Researchers get one step closer to finding universal vaccine for cancer. Researchers have found a way to engineer immune cells to identify and attack cancer cells.
A team of German researchers has found a way to engineer immune cells so that they can recognise and attack cancer cells, paving the way to create a universal vaccine for cancer.
The method they employed is this: A tiny piece of genetic code is inserted by means of a nanoparticle with slight negative charge, so that it is attracted to cells known as dendritic immune cells which form part of the body’s lymphatic system, located in the bone marrow, spleen and lymph nodes.
These cells are responsible for locating foreign cells in the body, processing antigens (any substance that is likely to invoke an immune response) and presenting rogue cells to T lymphocytes or killer T cells, which then destroy such cells. Cancer cells often evade this mechanism as they look very similar to normal cells.
The piece of code results in the creation of an antigen, a cancer molecule that provides a prototype, a biological photograph as it were, to immune cells on the hunt. Thus, it harnesses the human body’s natural anti-virus defence system, a treatment mechanism known as immunotherapy.
The researchers successfully demonstrated a strong response from the T cells against the tumour.
Scientists have previously engineered immune cells to recognise cancer cells outside the body, but this is the first time they have proved that it can happen inside cells.
These results have been drawn from experimentation on mice and a clinical trial involving three skin cancer patients, who could tolerate the treatment.
The genetic code to be inserted would be crafted by studying the genetic profile of the tumour in question. It can be programmed for any type of cancer, and scientists could develop a custom vaccine which would not only fight the disease but perhaps also prevent its return
“The vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumour antigen can be encoded by RNA. The approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.” the lead author of the study Professor Ugur Sahin was quoted as saying in the Telegraph. He is the managing director of Translational Oncology at the University Medical Centre of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany.
Dr Aine McCarthy, a senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, while accepting that this research paved the way for a new type of treatment vaccine for melanoma patients, cautioned that larger clinical trials were needed to confirm these results, and to find out whether it works for other types of cancer.
The research was published in the journal Nature.