Cancer Research UK
Hard Science

Scientists Are Closer To The First ‘Universal Cancer Vaccine” With Successful Human Trials

It's not a cure, but it's a step closer.

Fighting Cancer Through The Body

Treating cancer is obviously not easy. One of the most well known methods is chemotherapy, and while this has proven to be successful over the years (to a certain degree),it has life-threatening side effects.

But science is developing fast these days, and recent marvels in medicine have given us new ways to fight back—including using one’s own immune system, known as immunotherapy, to combat cancer. With that same principle, researchers at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany have developed what may be the first “universal cancer vaccine,” with preliminary human trials shown to be successful.

It must be noted that a full treatment is still years away. For average treatments, FDA approval can take as long as 8 years, and more clinical trials are needed. However, early work is inspiring.

Recognizing The Problem

To break down the work, the immune system does not always recognize cancer cells as a threat because they possess similarities with normal cells in the body, which the immune system won’t attack. They key to this vaccine is an antigen, a molecule that serves as an identifier that complicates the way that the immune system recognizes cancer cells and normal cells.

To address this issue, the researchers  basically shot ‘darts’ that contain pieces of RNA from the patient’s cancer cells at their own immune system, causing the body to recognize the threat and deal with it accordingly.

The researchers assert that this method is essentially universal, in the sense that they can simply change the RNA within the darts, and they can use it to treat various cancers.

The team from Germany did their research initially on mice. And according to the study, upon injecting the vaccine, the subject’s immune systems began fighting malignant tumors.

Moreover, the researchers have already done tests of the vaccine on three patients to prove its safety. The patients, diagnosed with melanoma, had only undergone side-effects of flu-like symptoms, and nothing like those in chemotherapy. As reported, in one patient, a suspected tumor on a lymph node got smaller after the vaccine injection.

The researchers’ study is published on the journal Nature.

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