In a recent study conducted on mice, the experimental vaccine achieved impressive results, successfully ‘clearing’ 43 percent of pancreatic tumors. Furthermore, the treatment not only eliminated these cancers but also prevented them from coming back.
The experimental vaccine utilizes a weakened strain of a food-poisoning bacterium. This bacterium stimulates an immune response in the recipient’s body. Additionally, the vaccine contains a segment of the patient’s tumor, effectively training the immune system to combat the patient’s unique cancer.
While the study’s initial success is based on mouse experiments, the research team at the University of Massachusetts is eager to initiate human trials in the near future. If approved, this vaccine could offer hope for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which currently carries a bleak prognosis.
In an early-stage trial, half of pancreatic cancer patients who received a personalized mRNA cancer vaccine after surgery did not have a recurrence of the tumor a year and a half later. https://t.co/agp15QAZ66— Scientific American (@sciam) October 2, 2023
A Lethal Foe – The Challenge of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is not as common as other types of cancer, but it is still a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Every year, approximately 50,550 people die from pancreatic cancer. Detecting it in its early stages poses a significant challenge, as the pancreas is deep within the body, making tumors invisible and impalpable during routine physical exams.
Once diagnosed, treating pancreatic cancer proves complex due to the tumors’ often proximity to vital tissues. This proximity makes it difficult for treatments to reach the cancer without causing collateral damage.
In their initial approach, the research team intends to use this innovative vaccine to treat liver cancer. Liver cancer is responsible for more than 700,000 deaths worldwide yearly.
The Vaccine’s Unique Composition
This groundbreaking vaccine comprises a molecule extracted from a cancer cell, encapsulated within a protein from chicken eggs called ovalbumin. Similar to vaccines for diseases like yellow fever, influenza, MMR, and rabies, it contains trace amounts of egg protein, as these vaccines are cultivated in chicken eggs.
The Salmonella Delivery Mechanism
They are enclosed within a genetically modified salmonella bacterium to deliver the molecule and protein. This bacterium, although non-toxic, releases the vaccine when injected into the bloodstream. It triggers an immune response, particularly involving a type of white blood cell called T cells, which train the immune system to target future cancer cells.
The vaccine displayed remarkable efficacy in their experiments on mice with pancreatic cancer. Neil Forbes, a professor of chemical engineering and senior author of the study, reported that “We had complete cures in three out of seven of the pancreatic mice models. We’re genuinely excited about that; it significantly extended survival.”
Following the vaccine administration, the researchers reintroduced pancreatic tumors into the vaccinated mice. Astonishingly, none of these tumors grew, signifying that the mice had developed immunity to ovalbumin and cancer.
The research team intends to seek FDA approval to commence clinical trials within a few years. Before human trials, further experiments on different animals are essential, and the safety of the salmonella strain for human use must be confirmed.
Professor Forbes, driven by a personal connection to cancer, emphasized, “This is not just an academic exercise. I’m really trying to make a cancer therapy.”
Benefitting Diverse Cancer Patients
The findings of this study were published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Immunology. Previous research by the team demonstrated that injecting modified salmonella into the bloodstream effectively treated liver tumors in mice. Professor Forbes highlighted the new immunotherapy’s potential to benefit a wide range of cancer patients.