Experts at Stanford University may have finally crafted a new vaccine in the ongoing fight against cancer. In a recent experiment, the scientists used immune-stimulators to target tumours in mice, and showed encouraging results.
For the experiment, the experts combined two immune boosters, and injected it to mouse tumours. The vaccine eradicated all traces of the targeted tumours in mice, even the metastases that were formerly untreated.
“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumours all over the body,” said Dr. Ronald Levy, senior author of the study, to the Stanford Medicine News Center. “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumour-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.”
In the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, one of the two immune agents has been approved in a vaccine to be used for human trial, while the other agent is currently being used in a trial vaccine for lymphoma treatment.
The study explains how the immune system fails to work against tumours. According to it, the immune system detects cancer cells in the body, and produces T cells to attack the tumours. However, the cancer cells overpower the T cells, and eventually start growing even bigger.
In the experiment, the experts were able to rejuvenate the T cells when fighting against the cancer cells using a microgram (one-millionth of a gram) amount of the two immune boosters. The combination of these two immune boosters was injected to the lymphoma tumour of the mouse. The rejuvenated T cells moved on to other identical cancer cells in the animal’s body and destroyed them. However, although the T cells were successful at eliminating the targeted tumours, it didn’t move on to cancer cells in the colon found in the same animal.
“This is a very targeted approach,” Levy said. “Only the tumour that shares the protein targets displayed by the treated site is affected. We’re attacking specific targets without having to identify exactly what proteins the T cells are recognizing.”
The vaccine was tested in 90 more mice subjects, and had successfully removed tumours in 87 mice. The tumours recurred to 3 animal subjects, which regressed after subjecting the animals to another treatment. The experts also found that the vaccine can also remove tumours in the breast, colon, and melanoma, allowing them to declare the subjects to be cancer-free.
“I don’t think there’s a limit to the type of tumour we could potentially treat,” Levy said, “as long as it has been infiltrated by the immune system.”
The study can change the current cancer treatment methods that we have today. Unlike what we currently use to treat cancer, this method does not require infiltration of the whole body’s immune system, nor it doesn’t need to use body samples from cancer patients. Current treatments on the market, such as what we use for leukaemia and lymphoma, the patient’s entire immune system need to be removed from the body, and then genetically modified to combat against cancer cells before the immune system is introduced in the body again. This kind of method is an expensive, lengthy and complex process that involves massive side effects. The newly developed method, on the hand, is much simpler.
“All of these immunotherapy advances are changing medical practice,” Levy said. “Our approach uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumour itself. In the mice, we saw amazing, body-wide effects, including the elimination of tumours all over the animal.”