A universal cancer vaccine is on the horizon after scientists discovered how to rewire immune cells to fight any type of disease.
The potential new therapy involves injecting tiny particles of genetic code into the body which travel to the immune cells and teach them to recognise specific cancers.
Although scientists have shown previously that is it is possible to engineer immune cells outside the body so they can spot cancer it is the first time it has happened inside cells.
And because the genetic code could be programmed for any cancer, it means the technique could be universal. All doctors would need is the genetic profile of the tumour to make a custom-made vaccine which as well as fighting the disease, would prevent it ever returning.
Test in mice showed that the vaccine triggered a strong immune response while trials in three skin cancer patients demonstrated that the treatment could be tolerated.
” The vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumour antigen can be encoded by RNA,” said lead author Prof Ugur Sahin, managing director of Translational Oncology at the University Medical Centre of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany.
” The approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.”
The team focussed on a class of immune cells call dendritic cells which are constantly on the look-out for foreign invaders in the body. Once a dendritic cell spots a rogue cell like cancer, it captures molecules from the surface and presents it to killer T-cells to instruct it to begin fighting the disease.
However cancer cells look very similar to normal cells and so the immune system often avoids them.
The new technology involves placing a small piece of genetic code in a nanoparticle and giving it a slightly negative charge so it is drawn to dendritic immune cells in the spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow.
Once there it orders the creation of a cancer molecule– known as an antigen– which is then used as a biological mugshot so that immune cells know what to look out for.
The authors proved that it triggers a strong T-cell response and starts fighting tumours.
Dr Aine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer: “By combining laboratory-based studies with results from an early-phase clinical trial, this research shows that a new type of treatment vaccine could be used to treat patients with melanoma by boosting the effects of their immune systems.
“Because the vaccine was only tested in three patients, larger clinical trials are needed to confirm it works and is safe, while more research will determine if it could be used to treat other types of cancer.
The research was published in the journal Nature.
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