Developing vaccines that directly target cancer has been slow going in recent years, but new research from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston published in the journal Nature points to a brighter future for the undertaking. The team behind the research did in fact design a cancer vaccine capable of keeping tumors from evading immune cell interaction. Effectively boxing in cancer cells, this vaccine brings the immune system’s T and natural killer (NK) cells directly to the fight while triggering a call to action for the immune system en masse.
Early testing has produced promising results, and the vaccine could lead to the creation of a universal cancer jab that would work in tandem with conventional cancer therapies – and even keep patients from relapsing. “This is an impressive vaccination approach that targets a protein that is expected to be expressed on cancer cells and turns this into a comprehensive, multi-pronged immune attack against the tumor,” said Abramson Cancer Center radiation oncologist Dr. Andy Minn, who was not involved in this study.
Lead researcher Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig, a cancer biologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said the new vaccine banks on the vulnerability of two proteins called MICA and MICB that cancer cells create as stress reactions when experiencing DNA damage. Those proteins act as a waypoint for the immune system, with its emissaries being the cancer-killing T and NK cells. However, cancer cells are known to sometimes avoid this assault by shedding MICA and MICB from their surfaces, and the research team behind the vaccine is also looking into how to mitigate this response.