Researchers from Stanford University have completed a study that uses stem cells to make personalised cancer vaccines. While the research is in its early stages, initial animal testing indicates that the vaccines may be able to treat patients who already have cancer and prevent certain forms of cancer from occurring.
The researchers used inactivated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to create the vaccines. iPSCs can easily be created from a patient’s skin or blood cells. They are the body’s “master cells” which are capable of differentiating into many other types of cells, including nerve, muscle, ligament, skin, and liver cells.
The research team processed the iPSCs to create a vaccine that is given back to the patient. Because the initial cells came from the patient, there is no risk of rejection of the vaccine by the patient’s immune system.
The vaccines created can theoretically be used to prevent many types of cancer including mesothelioma, melanoma, and breast cancer. If the vaccine is proven to be effective, it could potentially save the lives of millions of people.
When first researching the vaccine, the research team discovered that iPSCs are very similar to tumour cells, as both types of cells have the same protein (epitope) on their surface. There are also certain cellular mechanisms shared by both iPSCs and tumour cells, like their ability to grow and divide with control.
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Using these findings, the researchers decided to test if the immune system could be altered to recognise dangerous cancerous cells and prevent their development. They developed a technique that teaches the immune system to target the proteins shared by both iPSCs and cancer cells using genetically matched iPSCs.
They tested the new technique on mice that had been implanted with breast cancer cells. The mice that had received the treatment successfully killed off the breast cancer cells, while the mice that did not developed cancer. They repeated the tests with other forms of cancer including mesothelioma and melanoma, and found the same results.
If subsequent trials are successful, researcher may be able to develop vaccines that prevent cancer from ever taking hold.
Source: Researchers Explore Stem Cells for Personalized Cancer Vaccines