In what could be called a possible breakthrough, scientists have developed a cancer jab which they claim can wipe out tumours by stimulating the immune system so that it seeks out and destroys cancer cells.
A team at Cancer Research UK and the University of Leeds, which has developed the vaccine, says that though the jab may not fully cure cancer but it would help make the disease more like a chronic illness than a merciless killer.
Cancer victims given the jab should be able to live much longer with the disease under control, says the team.
In fact, in their research, the scientists, along with experts at Mayo Clinic in the US, have discovered a DNA-based way to activate the immune system to kill tumours without any side-effects.
Normally the immune system does not recognise cancer as a threat and therefore ignores it. The new treatment fools the system into thinking the cancer is a virus and must be attacked, the ‘Daily Express’ reported.
Prof Alan Melcher, who led the team, said “The biggest challenge in immunology is developing antigens (immune system triggers) that can target the tumour without causing harm elsewhere.
“By using DNA from the same part of the body as the tumour, inserted into a virus, we may be able to solve that problem. This may not be a cure but it will get the cancer under control meaning people will live longer with it under control. Cancer will become more of a chronic illness than a death sentence.”
In their research, the scientists injected doses of the new vaccine into the bloodstream of cancerous mice. The immune system of mice reacted and attacked tumours but left healthy cells intact.
Importantly, although the method “woke up” the immune system, it did not send it into overdrive.
The research was done on prostate cancer but the technique is also showing promise in treating melanoma, the scientists have claimed in the latest edition of the ‘Nature Medicine’ journal.
They say it is also a candidate for treating many aggressive cancers such as lung, brain and pancreatic cancer.
The scientists hope clinical trials could begin in as little as two or three years. If shown to be as successful in humans, it could help people to live tumour-free with fewer side-effects than those experienced from current therapies.
Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “This is an interesting and significant study which could really broaden out the field of immunotherapy research.”
Added Dr Richard Vile, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic: “We are hopeful that this will overcome some of the major hurdles we’ve seen with immunotherapy cancer research.”
However, experts say more research is needed.
Dr Kate Holmes, research manager at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “Further research looking at its effect in men is needed before we can be sure of the usefulness of this vaccine. We look forward to the outcome.”