There’s no cure for cancer, but that fact might soon change thanks to medicine of the future. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have developed an approach that may lead to a “vaccine” for cancer. In a study published on January 31 in Science Translational Medicine, Stanford researchers found that a targeted immunotherapy approach successfully cured 87 out of 90 mice with lymphoma tumors. Not only did the therapy eliminate initial targeted tumors, but it also destroyed distant tumors of the same type in unidentified areas.
Professor Ronald Levy, MD, senior author of the study, said the results of the study show promise in treating potentially any kind of cancer. Treatment would hinge on whether a tumor had been infiltrated by the body’s immune system.
With cancer, a person’s immune system, typically in the form of T cells, attempts to attack cancerous cells by infiltrating those cells once it identifies abnormal proteins. But cancer cells change rapidly, often suppressing T cell attacks so that they’re ineffective. Levy and his team wanted to “reactivate” those T cells by injecting them with two immune-stimulating agents designed to give them a fighting chance against the cancer activity. And it worked.
The two agents, one a short stretch of DNA and the other a specific type of antibody, together were injected directly into one tumor site in each of the 90 mice with lymphoma. The combined force of these agents reactivated the T cells within the cancer cells, which not only took care of the cancerous cells they were in but left the cells to seek out – and destroy – cancer cells in other parts of the body that had not been identified. In all but three cases, the mice were cured of their lymphoma. In three of the mice, cancer returned but was eliminated once more with a second round of the vaccine. Researchers tested the approach in mice with breast, colon and melanoma tumors with similar results.
This targeted approach appears to work well in mice, but human clinical trials have only just begun. Researchers have recruited 15 people with low-grade lymphoma to test the efficacy of the vaccine in humans. Levy hopes that this method may be used in the future in lieu of costlier, riskier and less effective cancer treatment approaches.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, with men having a higher cancer mortality rate than women. Cancer is expected to cost the U.S. $156 billion annually by 2020. Between 2004 and 2013, the cancer death rate in America declined by 13 percent.