An experimental cancer vaccine developed by Virginia Commonwealth University scientists has been found to be surprisingly effective at targeting advanced cases and tumors that have spread to other parts of the body.
Although the breakthrough, reported in the journal Cancer Research, is preliminary and requires additional study, the findings are so promising the researchers suggest the novel immunotherapy could become a potent new weapon against so-called metastatic cancers when used in combination with current cancer therapies.
"Successfully promoting antitumor immunity will help eradicate tumor cells, control cancer progression and help prevent tumor relapse," said lead researcher author Xiang-Yang Wang, an associate professor of Human and Molecular Genetics at VCU School of Medicine. "This immunotherapy has the potential to be used alone or in combination with conventional cancer treatments to develop and establish immune protection against cancer and its metastases."
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The vaccine contains a molecule engineered by Wang — called Flagrp-170 — that he tested on animal and human melanoma, prostate, and colon tumor cells. Wang and his colleagues designed the vaccine to be delivered by modified viruses directly to the tumor sites — like molecular Trojan Horses — to target the cancer. The results showed that the vaccine provoked a profound immune response that significantly prolonged survival in the treated animals.
Grp170 has been shown to help the immune system recognize cancer antigens — molecules from foreign objects such as bacteria, viruses or cancer that, when detected, provoke an immune response aimed at attacking them. Cancer cells have unique mechanisms that allow them to suppress immune responses, but the vaccine may circumvent that process.
"Overcoming cancer's ability to suppress the body's natural immune responses and restore or develop immunity for tumor eradication is the goal of cancer immunotherapy," said Wang. "More experiments are needed, but we are hoping Flagrp-170 may one day be used in formulating more effective therapeutic cancer vaccines."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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