A team of researchers in Montreal has been working on developing a personalized anti-cancer vaccine that is effective in mice
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Marie-Claude Bourgeois-Daigneault and a team of researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM), made some alteration on viruses to make them specific to tumor cells. Once in the body of a patient, these viruses – referred to as oncolytic viruses -infect and particularly destroy the cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.
These viruses can even cause stimulation in the immune system so that it is better armed to identify and kill malignant cells. This is what’s called immunotherapy. In a study released in Nature, the scientists reveal how they came to produce an effective personalized vaccine by joining oncolytic viruses with small synthetic molecules – peptides, specific to the cancer which is targeted.
Here, Bourgeois-Daigneault makes an explanation of the approach and discoveries of her team. For a vaccine to bring about an immune response, it has to carry elements that can stimulate the cells of the immune system – the well-known white blood cells. These elements, referred to as adjuvants, are constituent in all vaccines.
They let the human body perceive danger that is yet to come and contain the menance by sending its army of immune cells. The approach of the researchers consists of making use of oncolytic viruses to prompt this immune response and direct it heading to the cancer. To succeed, they created a vaccine by joining viruses with synthetic peptides (antigens) that look like the cancer been targeted.
Because it’s true that, for the vaccine to be effective, it has to be individualized for each patient, on the basis of the mutations specific to each cancer cell. Thanks to the recognition work done by other researchers, peptides to be used for each patient can be predicted through the information gotten from a biopsy.
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The importance of this approach is that the oncolytic viruses themselves are powerful enough to get rid of the cancer. Researchers can thus attack the cancer on two fronts: directly kill it with the virus and bring about an immune response, thanks to the vaccine and not only to the virus. On the mice, they were able to display the efficacy of the resulting immunization.
The other personalized anti-cancer vaccines that are clinically tested don’t make use of oncolytic viruses as vaccination adjuvants. Therefore, their adjuvant doesn’t have close anti-cancer effects whereas, in this case, the viruses can lead to the destruction of the cancer.
An anti-cancer vaccine making use of oncolytic viruses is been tested in the U.S and Canada presently. However, it is not personalized. Rather, it aims at certain particular cancers that have an antigen in common. By targeting this antigen, the vaccine brings about an immune response.
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