German researchers have moved a giant step closer to developing individualized gene-based strategies for treating cancer.
Mainz University Medical Center scientists have identified genetic changes or mutations associated with various types of cancer and determined their individual blueprints — a breakthrough they said paves the way for personalized immunotherapy techniques.
The goal of the research, published in the journal Nature, is to produce customized cancer vaccines designed to shrink and eliminate tumors by harnessing the power of the body’s own immune defenses.
The approach — a kind of Holy Grail for cancer researchers — is a market departure from conventional methods of treating cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
"We now know that our immune system itself is able to recognize cancer and take steps to fight it," explained lead researcher Ugur Sahin.
"Unfortunately, it is not usually capable of controlling a tumor. One obvious strategy is therefore to stimulate the immune system in such a way that it is able to restrict tumor growth and to destroy malignant cells."
In pre-clinical laboratory experiments, Sahin’s team has identified the individual genetic fingerprints of breast-, colon-, and skin-cancer tumors that can be targeted by vaccines without harming healthy tissues.
"The implementation of this promising approach has to date been hampered by the fact that tumor mutations differ greatly from patient to patient, meaning that it is a very complex procedure to create vaccines on demand," noted Sahin.
"Through our recent research, we have found a way to bypass this problem and demonstrate what form a practicable strategy with acceptable outlay might take. We describe both fundamental immunological insights and technological advances that should allow us to deliver truly personalized immunotherapy to cancer patients."
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