Scientists have reportedly taken a large step toward creating a universal vaccine against cancer that makes the body’s immune system attack tumors the way it would a virus. This vaccine has only mild flu-like side effects, which is a huge contrast to the often devastating side effects of traditional chemotherapy treatments.
Writing in the science journal Nature, an international team of medical researchers, have described taking pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, putting it into minuscule nanoparticles of fat and injecting the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients with advanced stages of the disease. The patients’ immune systems responded to the treatment by producing the T-cells which attack cancer cells.
Researchers led by professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany also found this treatment to be highly effective in fighting aggressive tumors in mice. In a paper, they wrote:
“[Such] vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any [tumor] antigen [a protein attacked by the immune system] can be encoded by RNA.”
According to the paper, three patients were given low doses of the vaccine during a trial. While the patients’ immune systems seemed to react, there is not yet any direct evidence that their cancers were cured as a direct result of these vaccines and more testing is necessary.
In one patient, a lymph node tumor shrank after the vaccine was administered. Another patient, who had tumors surgically removed, was cancer free seven months after the vaccine. The third patient, with eight tumors which had spread from their skin to their lungs, remained “clinically stable” after the introduction of the vaccine. Advanced skin cancer can be highly resistant to treatment.
Cancer immunotherapy has seen significant breakthroughs over the past decade and has caused a lot of excitement within the medical community. It has been used to treat a number of cancers with great successes. Dr Helen Rippon, chief executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, had this to say:
“More research is needed in a larger number of people with different cancer types and over longer periods of time before we could say we have discovered a ‘universal cancer vaccine’. But this research is a very positive step forwards towards this global goal.”