Scientists believe that they have discovered a vaccine which could be a “game-changer” in the battle against cancer.
They have managed to teach the body’s immune system to identify cancer cells, which allows patients to be primed to destroy cancer.
In one case, an American woman who was given just weeks to live was cleared of advanced blood cancer. Yet with the help of this new vaccine, she is still alive three years later.
British researchers are now working on a related approach. Both methods involve taking T-cells which fight infection and giving them the ability to recognize a special tag on the surface of cancer cells, called the WT1 protein.
The current research is being carried out on patients with leukemia, but the hope is that their vaccines will eventually be used to fight different types of cancer including but not limited to breast, bowel, and prostate.
Although researchers believe it to be unlikely, there is talk about a universal cancer vaccine in the scientific community.
Over the past three years specialists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York have treated 15 plasma cell leukemia patients with T-cells taught to recognize cancer.
Plasma cell leukemia can be treated with chemotherapy but it tends to keep returning. All 15 patients were expected to die within months given the normal treatment. However after following this new regiment, about half are still alive.
This treatment involves taking bone marrow from a donor and splitting it into stem cells and T-cells.
The patient receives the stem cells right away while the T-cells are sensitized to WT1 in the lab by exposing them to fragments of the protein.
The hope is that these genetically engineered T-cells will be able to multiply and be ready to fight off the cancer if it ever returns.