In a new study, researchers have developed a personalized vaccine system that could ultimately delay pancreatic cancer.
The study provides a strong proof-of-concept for the creation of a vaccine for cancer prevention in individuals at high risk of developing this disease and to slow down tumor growth in patients who are affected by it.
The research was conducted by a team from Queen Mary University of London and Zhengzhou University.
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all the common cancers, with less than 5 percent of those diagnosed surviving for longer than five years.
Although vaccines do exist for some cancers caused by known pathogens, such as the HPV in cervical cancer, vaccination against non-viral cancers has remained a challenge.
In the study, the researchers created a vaccine system that doubled the survival time of mice with pancreatic cancer.
Importantly, the vaccine system can be personalized for the individual receiving it and could potentially be tailored to work against other types of cancer.
Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize and kill pathogens within the body. To do this, immune cells must recognize molecules on the surface of the pathogens, called antigens.
By injecting these antigens as a vaccine, the immune system can safely learn how to recognize them as foreign objects—and remember this should they be found in the body again.
The team says the development of a preventive vaccine against non-viral cancers is hugely limited by the lack of appropriate tumor antigens and an effective approach to induce robust anti-tumor immunity against those antigens.
Through this international collaboration, they have made progress towards the development of a prophylactic cancer vaccine against pancreatic cancer.
The preliminary data from tests on mice showed that it could be a platform for developing personalized and powerful cancer vaccines to reduce cancer incidence in at-risk people.
To make the vaccine, the researchers took cells from mice and turned them into pancreatic cancer cells by adding two errors into their genetic code.
These errors, or mutations, are known drivers of pancreatic cancer.
The team then infected these cells with viruses, which have an important role in the vaccine system.
Not only do the viruses kill the cells to remove their ability to form tumors within the body, but they do so in a way that activates the immune system against these cells.
As the cells die the following injection into the subject, they release antigens specific to these pancreatic cancer cells, priming the immune system to recognize the initiation of cancer and prevent its development within the body.
By injecting these virus-infected cells into mice that were destined to develop pancreatic cancer, the team was able to delay the onset of disease, doubling their survival time when compared with mice who did not receive the vaccine.
The genetic makeup of cancer varies from individual to individual. That means treatments that are effective for one patient’s cancer may not be effective against another’s.
Notably, because the cells were derived from the mice that were going to receive the vaccine, the cells created were genetically similar to cancer that was going to develop in these mice.
This suggests that cells could be taken from at-risk individuals and used to create matching tumor cells for use in a vaccine regime tailored to those individuals.
The team says although this research is at the early developmental stages, it provides strong evidence that the creation of a vaccine against pancreatic cancer is possible.
One author of the study is Professor Yaohe Wang from the Queen Mary University of London.
The study is published in Clinical Cancer Research.
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