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Cancer vaccines could soon be a reality – personalized treatment would be more effective and cause less side effects

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Posted April 12, 2018

Cancer is a horrible disease and one of the major causes of death. Humanity is getting closer to curing cancer. In fact, most cancer patients survive for a pretty long time these days. However, wouldn‘t it be great if we could simply vaccinate against cancer? Scientists from the University of Queensland have developed a vaccine delivery technology that could lead to personalized treatments.

Human immune system can be trained to attack cancer cells like this one. Image credit: National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia

Immunotherapy holds a substantial promise for cancer treatment. If it could be personalized, it could lead to a very effective way to treat people with cancer while avoiding adverse side effects. Cancer immunotherapy is a novel method, which turns natural human immune system against cancer cells. This is not easy to do, because cancer cells are still cells from the same body. However, with some precision medicine immune system could be trained to attack cancer cells, leading to effective recovery with little to none side effects. In essence it would be similar to flu vaccines, except that instead of attacking viruses our immune system would attack cancer cells.

Everyone has a unique immune system and cancer cases are all different. That is a challenge for cancer immunotherapy, because it has to be somewhat flexible and individual for every case. Scientists say that current cancer vaccines are not very effective, because they lack that flexibility. For example, checkpoint inhibitors, a new class of immunotherapy drugs, showed promising results in several trials, but are still effective only in a handful of cases. Furthermore, checkpoint inhibitors can cause adverse side effects, such as inflammations. But now scientists are inching forward a real cancer vaccine that would stimulate the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

This new technology is called NanoEmulsion. It represents a new approach to cancer treatment. Professor Ranjeny Thomas, one of the authors of the study, said: “NanoEmulsions are tiny carrier packages that encapsulate proteins made only by cancer cells. They are designed to target specific immune cells, which educate the immune system about cancer proteins”. NanoEmulsion is already showing a great promise in the initial testing with mouse models.

Cancer vaccines sound like something from science fiction movies, but they are coming. However, the name itself is debatable, because they will not prevent cancer. Instead, it will be a treatment, based on immunotherapy, which is a more technical name for it.

 

Source: University of Queensland

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