(RxWiki News) The possibilities for treating a number of cancers - including difficult to treat ones - have just taken a gargantuan leap. An experimental vaccine is showing hugely promising results in animal studies.
Medical scientists are working on a vaccine that is able to dramatically reduce breast and pancreatic tumors in mouse models that mimic 90 percent of human cancers. This experimental vaccine also holds promise in treating even difficult-to-treat cases of ovarian and colorectal cancer.
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Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and the University of Georgia are working with the body's immune system to recognize, attack and destroy cancer cells. It's known that when a normal cell become cancerous, there is a change in the sugars contained on surface of that cell. This change is what researchers are targetingto let the immune system know the difference.
"Cancer cells have a special way of thwarting the immune system by putting sugars on the surface of tumor cells so they can travel around the body without being detected," explained co-senior author of the study, Sandra Gendler, Ph.D., professor of therapeutics for cancer research at Mayo Clinic in Arizona in an article that appeared in the UK Daily Mail.
She goes on to explain that as cancer develops the structure of the cell changes, too much of a protein called MUC1 is produced, which in turn promotes the formation of tumors. The vaccine "trains the immune system to distinguish and kill cancer cells based on their different sugar structures on proteins such as MUC1,
The team used unique mice which were developed by Gendler to develop - as humans do - tumors that have too much of the protein MUC1 on the surface of their cells. The vaccine triggers the immune system to go to work attacking these cells, according to study co-senior author Geert-Jan Boons, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and a researcher in the University of Georgia Cancer Center.
MUC1 is found on more than 70 percent of lethal cancers, says Gendler. Boons notes that the protein is also over-expressed in 90 percent of patients who don't respond to hormonal therapies such as tamoxifen, the drug Herceptin and aromatase inhibitors.
Gendler says the vaccine has the potential to prevent the recurrence of certain cancers. It can also be coupled with chemotherapy, to treat cancers such as pancreatic cancer that can't be cured with surgery.
The team is currently testing the vaccine on human cancer cells and hopes to begin safety phase 1 clinical trials by late 2013.
This research was published in an early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Funding for this research came from the National Cancer Institute, the Mayo Breast Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) Grant and the Mayo Pancreas SPORE Grant.