Finding a cure for cancer is a decade-old effort by reaserchers. But only now, there is good news! A new study inspired optimism at those in desperate need for cancer “vaccine”.
Researchers at Lymphoma Immunotherapy Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said that a ceratin vaccine that’s injected directly into a single tumor can trigger the immune system to attack cancer cells throughout the body.
The researchers say that the experimental therapy essentially turns tumors into “cancer vaccine factories,” where immune cells learn to recognize the cancer before seeking it out and destroying it in other parts of the body.
Lead study author Dr. Joshua Brody, said, however, that the research which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, is very preliminary. The therapy has only been tested in 11 patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a cancer of immune system cells), and not all of these patients responded to the treatment. But some patients did have remission for relatively long periods, and the results were promising enough that the therapy is now also being tested in patients with breast and head and neck cancers.
According to a report published by Live Science, the “vaccine” appears to substantially boost the effectiveness of another type of immunotherapy called “checkpoint blockade” — the same therapy that former President Jimmy Carter received to treat his metastatic melanoma in 2015. (“Immunotherapy” refers to treatments that harness the immune system to fight cancer.)
However, the new treatment is not technically a vaccine — a term used for substances that provide long-lasting immunity against disease. (Still, the term “cancer vaccine” can be used to refer to therapies that train the immune system to fight cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.)
Instead, the new treatment is a type of immunotherapy. It involves giving patients a series of injections with two types of immune stimulants.
The therapy has three steps. First, patients are given an injection that contains a small molecule that recruits immune cells, called dendritic cells, into the tumor. Dendritic cells act like generals in an army, telling the immune system “soldiers” — known as T cells — what to do, Brody said.
Next, patients are given a low dose of radiotherapy, which kills a few tumor cells so that they spill out “antigens,” or proteins, that the immune system can learn to recognize, Brody said. Dendritic cells then take up these antigens and show them to the T cells.
Then, patients are given a second injection that contains a molecule that activates the dendritic cells.
“The dendritic cells are learning the lesson … and telling it to the T cells,” which then can search the body for other cancer cells, Brody said.