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Scientists are closer to cracking a 'universal cancer vaccine'

Fingers crossed

Scientists are closer to cracking a 'universal cancer vaccine'
02 June 2016

Good news for those of us who are firmly in the ‘cancer is bad’ camp.

According to The Independent, Scientists have taken a “very positive step” towards creating a universal cancer vaccine that helps the body’s immune system to attack tumours as if they were a virus.

Writing in the scientific journal Nature, a team of researchers talked of how they had transferred pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code into tiny nanoparticles of fat, and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three advanced-stage patients.

Their immune systems responded by producing “killer” T-cells designed to attack cancer. They also found the vaccine to be effective in fighting “aggressively growing” tumours in mice.

The team, led by Professor Ugar Sahin from Johannes Gutenburg University in Germany, wrote: “[Such] vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumour antigen [a protein attacked by the immune system] can be encoded by RNA,"

“Thus, the nanoparticulate RNA immunotherapy approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.”

In one patient, a suspected lymph node tumour got smaller after a low dose of the vaccine was administered. Another patient, whose tumours had been surgically removed, remained cancer-free seven months after vaccination.

The third patient had eight tumours that had spread from skin cancer into their lungs. After the vaccine, these tumours remained “clinically stable”.

This, of course, is exciting news – especially because cancers concerning the lung, brain, neck and melanoma are notoriously difficult to treat. Being able to inject an effective treatment into a patient’s bloodstream could make treating these conditions a lot easier. The flu-like side effects produced by the new vaccine also pales in comparison to the sickness caused by chemotherapy.

The study is in its early days, but the advancements of immunotherapy are definitely cause for excitement.