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We’re fighting cancer with a universal vaccine

Published Jun 11th, 2016 12:00PM EDT

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How cool would it be to stop cancer dead in its tracks using a vaccine that would work regardless of cancer type? It turns out that humanity is already thinking along those lines, and it’s looking to introduce a type of “universal cancer vaccine” that would be able to trigger the human’s body built-in defenses to kill cancerous cells.

Specifically, researchers at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, have initiated a limited safety human trial, after experiments on mice showed impressive results.

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Unlike other vaccines that are supposed to prevent a certain disease, the cancer vaccine would only be administered to cancer patients. Each vaccine therapy would actually be a customized treatment, Science Alert reports, as it would use pieces of RNA extracted from the patient’s cancer cells to trigger a reaction from his or her immune system.

“[Such] vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumor antigen can be encoded by RNA,” the team of doctors wrote. “Thus, the nanoparticulate RNA immunotherapy approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.”

Because cancer cells can look and behave like normal cells, the immune system does not attack them. However, by using a cancer-specific antigen, the vaccine would fool the immune system into initiating an all-out attack against all cells that express it, taking out tumors anywhere in the body.

To deliver it, scientists have coated the cancer RNA in a fatty acid membrane that has a slightly negative charge. This allows it to travel anywhere in the body, including spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow.

Once the vaccine meets dendritic immune cells, the body’s T cells get to inspect the RNA information. The next response is the neutralization of all tumorous cells that are similar in design.

Tests conducted on mice showed that their immune systems were able to combat cancer aggressively. The team started a limited human trial that includes three patients with melanoma. The point of the test was to see whether the vaccine is safe for humans, and the results are promising. The initial results are promising, with side effects including flu-like symptoms, which are better than what comes with chemotherapy treatments.

A larger trial can only start in the following years. The team has to wait 12 months to perform follow-up tests on the three patients before moving to the next step, which involves the actual test of the vaccine’s efficiency at killing cancer.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.