Researchers say immunotherapy method could lead to universal cancer vaccine


A team of German researchers is touting early results from human and mouse trials using immunotherapy that suggest a universal vaccine that targets cancer may not be far off. The research is published in Nature.

Immunotherapy is the process of leveraging a patient's immune system to attack cancer in the body. Researchers have previously shown that cells outside the body could be engineered to recognize cancers, but the new research documents the first time cells inside the body were changed to target cancers.

In commentary accompanying the paper, the authors wrote the immune system doesn't undergo this tumor-attacking process on its own because cancer cells are similar to normal cells in many ways, among other reasons. The human side effects for the vaccine method the researchers used were limited to symptoms similar to the flu, although only three patients were included in the trials, according to the research.

"The vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumor antigen can be encoded by RNA," lead study author Ugur Sahin, MD managing director of Translational Oncology at the University Medical Centre of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, told The Telegraph.  "The approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy."

The researchers are currently awaiting long-term follow-up results from the initial study group to ensure safety, before expanding trials to a larger clinical group.

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