The minds at Stanford University have developed a universal cancer vaccine that sports a 97% success rate. With clinical trials on humans now underway, bring on the cautious optimism.
The notion of a “cancer vaccine” ostensibly has an aura of childish fantasy and wonder – a solution almost too good to be true. However, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine now believe they are one step closer to materialising this life-saving idea which exploits the relationship between cancerous tumours and immune cells (specifically, T cells). In fact, the scientists are so confident with their mouse experimentation, human clinical trials began last week.
The “vaccine” is composed of a tiny segment of DNA called CpG and a specific antibody against the immune cell protein OX40 which is injected locally into the tumour. Separately these two molecules are almost inert, eliciting next to no reaction, however when paired they’ve been described as “synergistic”
Initially when a patient develops cancer, the T cells will detect the abnormal proteins in the body and enter the developing tumour. However as the tumour continues to grow, these T cells drop off – the immune system essentially “giving up”.
To bypass this natural “defeatist” response, a short stretch of DNA (CpG) is injected at the site. The CpG then begins communicating with the nearby immune cells, reactivating the OX40 receptor on the surface of the T cells.
Cue the second component of the vaccine: the antibody against the OX40. It works by reviving only the T Cells within the tumour, creating a mass of immune cells “pre-programmed” to attack only cancerous proteins, protecting the rest of the patient.
Once initiated, these tumour-hungry cells migrate from the initial site, spreading throughout the body and essentially hunting all other similar tumours.
In case you do not consider this to be remarkable enough, the cancer vaccine appears to function as a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. Oncologist, Ronald Levy, states, “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumour-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.”
In other words, it is not necessary to first identify the type of cancer involved.
The vaccine therapy has a 97% success rate, curing 87 out of the 90 cancerous tumours tested (including breast, colon and melanoma tumours). The three situations where the abnormal proteins returned, the cancer went into permanent remission after the second injection.
“I don’t think there’s a limit to the type of tumour we can potentially treat, as long as it has been infiltrated by the immune system,” Levy said.