- A team from the University of Massachusetts tested their vaccine on mice
- Liver cancer is its first target, followed by pancreatic cancer.
- READ MORE: First to receive breast cancer vaccine still in remission after five years
An experimental cancer vaccine has been shown to treat four in 10 pancreatic tumors, providing a ray of hope for patients with this aggressive disease.
In a study with mice, the injection “killed” 43 percent of pancreatic tumors and prevented the cancers from returning when they relapsed.
The vaccine uses an insect weakened by food poisoning to stimulate an immune response and contains a part of the recipient’s tumor to train their body to fight its own cancer.
Although the study is preliminary and in mice, the team at the University of Massachusetts hopes to begin trials in humans in the coming years.
If approved, it could be a lifesaver for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a situation that is currently a death sentence in the United States. Only 8.5 percent of Americans survive more than five years.
Compared to other cancers, pancreatic cancer is quite rare. It is the third leading cause of cancer death in the US, claiming 50,550 lives each year.
It is difficult to detect early because the pancreas is located deep within the body, so healthcare providers cannot see or feel the tumors during routine physical exams.
Once discovered, it is also difficult to treat because tumors are often surrounded by important tissue, making it difficult for treatments to reach the cancer directly without damaging the tissue.
Initially, the research team will use the vaccine to treat liver cancer, followed by pancreatic cancer.
Liver cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world, causing more than 700,000 deaths each year.
The new vaccine is made from a molecule extracted from the inside of a cancer cell and wrapped in a protein from a chicken egg called ovalbumin.
Vaccines against yellow fever, influenza, MMR and rabies contain small amounts of egg protein because they are grown in chicken eggs.
The molecule and protein are administered into genetically altered salmonella bacteria, which are non-toxic and release the vaccine.
When injected into the blood, weakened salmonella bacteria trigger an immune response.
The protein also activates a type of white blood cell called T cells, which trains the immune system to attack future cancer cells.
The team tested the treatment in mice with pancreatic cancer.
Neil Forbes, professor of chemical engineering and senior author of the paper, said, “We had a complete cure in three of the seven pancreatic mouse models. We’re very excited about that; it dramatically extended survival.”
The researchers then attempted to reintroduce pancreatic tumors into the vaccinated mice.
“None of the tumors grew, meaning that the mice had developed immunity, not only against the ovalbumin but also against the cancer itself,” Professor Forbes said.
‘The immune system has learned that the tumor is immunogenic. “I’m working harder to figure out how that actually happens,” she added.
The team plans to seek FDA approval to launch clinical trials within a few years.
Before trials can begin, they must repeat the experiments on other animals and make sure the salmonella strain is safe for use in humans.
Professor Forbes, whose grandfather died of prostate cancer, said: ‘This is not just an academic exercise. I am really trying to create a cancer therapy.’
The study was published last week in the journal Frontiers in immunology.
In previous research, the team showed that injecting altered salmonella into the blood was effective in treating liver tumors in mice.
Professor Forbes said the new immunotherapy has “the potential to be effective in a wide range of cancer patients”.