Scientists Performed the First Trials of a ‘Universal Cancer Vaccine’

Good news!  Scientists just too a big step towards developing what could be the first ‘universal cancer vaccine.’

The results from the early trials in humans, along with research in mice, was just published, and they suggest that the new technique could be used to activate patients’ immune system against any type of tumor anywhere in your body.

Unlike the common vaccines, this potential vaccine would be given to patients who already have cancer, instead of those who are at risk of getting it. It basically works by shooting tiny ‘darts’ containing pieces of RNA extracted from the patient’s cancer cells at the body’s own immune system, convincing them to launch an all-out attack on any tumors they come across.

In theory, by just changing the RNA inside those darts, the team can mobilize the immune system against any kind of cancer.

Immunotherapy, which involves using the patient’s own immune system to attack cancer is new at all. Researchers are already using it against different caner types with great results.

But until now, researchers have mostly done this by genetically engineering special, cancer-targeting immune cells in the lab, and then injecting them back into a patient - which is a time-consuming and expensive process.

However, the difference with this technique is that the vaccine is made in the lab, and it introduces the cancer DNA into the immune cells within the body, which is a lot less invasive. It also means that the vaccine can be modified to hunt a range of cancer types.

Immune system cannot naturally take out cancer types because cancer cells are similar in many ways to normal cells and immune system avoids attacking the self.

That means that when you develop a vaccine, you need an antigen, a foreign molecule that works like a ‘mugshot’ for the immune system, to sort them apart from the normal cells.

It's this kind of cancer-specific antigen that the new vaccine is designed to deliver to the immune system. It works by coating the cancer RNA in a simple, fatty acid membrane, and giving it a slightly negative charge.

This means that once the vaccine is injected into a patient, it's drawn via electric charge towards dendritic immune cells in the spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow.

These dendritic cells then 'show' the cancer RNA to the body's T cells and, to anthropomorphise the situation, pretty much tell them that it is the target. The goal is that the T cells will then go out and mass murder all the cancer cells in the body.

German researchers have introduced this vaccine on mine and once injected, the immune system was about to fight “aggressively growing” tumors. However, mice cannot be compared to humans so the results may still differ.

The team now has trialed a version of the vaccine in three patients with melanoma. The point of the trial was only to test whether the vaccine was safe to use in humans, not whether it was effective, and so far, the results are promising. The side effects were limited to flu-like symptoms, which is better than most chemotherapy treatments.

The team is now waiting 12 months for follow-up results from this safety trial, and if all goes well, will start a larger clinical trial after that to see if the vaccine really works.

Source: Science Alert

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