Scientists are getting closer to treating cancer patients with tailored vaccines that stimulate the immune system to attack malignant tumors.
Similar to flu vaccines, cancer vaccines in development are designed to alert the immune system to be on the lookout for dangerous invaders. But instead of preparing the immune system for potential pathogen attacks, the new vaccines will help key immune cells recognize the unique features of cancer cells already present in the body. For a new study with mice, published in the journal Nature, scientists tested investigational vaccines in computer simulations, cell cultures, and animal models. The results showed that the vaccines could enable the immune system to destroy or drive into remission a significant number of tumors.
In a case study, the vaccines cured nearly 90 percent of mice with an advanced form of muscle cancer.
“This is strong evidence that personalized cancer vaccines can be very effective cancer therapies and should be applied to human cancer now,” says senior author Robert Schreiber, professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Scientists at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital are in the process of using these vaccines against many different types of cancers including breast, brain, lung, and head and neck cancers. The most advanced of these studies is evaluating personalized cancer vaccines in patients with metastatic melanoma.