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New 3D Vaccine the Cure to Cancer?

Feb 09, 2015 04:45 PM EST
silica rods
Pictured: Porous silica rods that make up the new 3D cancer vaccine.
(Photo : James C. Weaver, Wyss Institute)

A new 3D vaccine may be the cure to cancer, as scientists found that it could provide a more effective way to harness the immune system to fight cancer, as well as infectious diseases, new research shows.

The vaccine, developed in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, was recently shown to effectively delay tumor growth in mice.

The results are described in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Cancer is such a deadly disease for which a successful cure has yet to be developed due to its ability to evade the body's immune system. Unlike bacterial cells or viruses, cancer cells are those that belong in the body, but are simply mutated and misplaced, causing trouble as they grow.

In order to pack a powerful punch against cancer, scientists have been trying to develop vaccines that provoke the immune system to recognize cancer cells as foreign and attack them. Previous research has focused on dendritic cell therapies, in which white blood cells are removed from a patient's blood and turned into dendritic cells that are "programmed" to recognize and destroy the patient's specific cancer cells. However, this approach, while somewhat successful, is costly and does not work over the long run.

So researcher David Mooney and his colleagues came up with a new technique that involves reprogramming immune cells from inside the body using implantable biomaterials.

The vaccine spontaneously assembles into a dime-sized scaffold that, once injected under the skin, creates an "infection-mimicking microenvironment." The scaffold contains tumor antigens as well as biological and chemical components that are supposed to attract dendritic cells - cells that patrol the body for harmful pathogens. This vaccine method is capable of recruiting, housing, and manipulating immune cells to generate a powerful immune response against cancer.

When the scaffold was implanted in mice, it achieved a 90 percent survival rate in animals that otherwise die from cancer within 25 days.

"The ability to so elegantly harness the natural behavior of dendritic cells to elicit a strong immune response is impressive," Jessica Tucker at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which funded the research, said in a statement. "The possibility of developing this approach as a cancer vaccine, which would not require an invasive and costly surgery to manipulate immune cells outside of the body, is very exciting."

And given the design of the new 3D vaccine - it's made up of many microsized, porous silica rods submersed in liquid - it would prevent patients from having to undergo surgery to implant the scaffold. In addition, any combination of antigens and drugs could be loaded into the scaffold, meaning it could also be used to treat infectious diseases that typically resist treatment.

While the 3D injectable scaffold is being tested in mice as a potential cancer vaccine, scientists hope that it can be applied to human patients and one day finally lead to a cure for cancer.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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