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Scientists develop cancer vaccine to simultaneously kill, prevent brain tumor

Dual-action cell treatment is designed to remove existing tumors while also training the immune system to eliminate primary cancers and prevent cancer recurrence.

Scientists are developing a novel method for transforming cancer cells into strong anti-cancer medicines.

Cancer Vaccine

Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, have devised a new cell therapy technique to remove established tumors and generate long-term immunity, teaching the immune system to prevent cancer from reoccurring.

The researchers tested their dual-action, cancer-killing vaccine in an advanced mouse model of the deadly brain tumor glioblastoma, and the findings were promising. The findings have been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines,” said corresponding author Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, director of the Center for Stem Cell and Translational Immunotherapy (CSTI) and vice chair of research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Brigham, as well as faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI).

“Using gene engineering, we are repurposing cancer cells to develop a therapeutic that kills tumor cells and stimulates the immune system to both to destroy primary tumors and prevent cancer.”

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Research Used Living Tumor Cells

Dual-action cell treatment is designed to remove existing tumors while also training the immune system to eliminate primary cancers and prevent brain cancer recurrence.

Many laboratories are working on cancer vaccinations, but Shah and his colleagues have chosen a unique approach. Instead of employing inactivated tumor cells, the researchers reuse living tumor cells that have an uncommon property.

Living tumor cells, like homing pigeons returning to roost, will fly enormous distances across the brain to find their fellow tumor cells.

Using the gene-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9, Shah’s team generated living tumor cells and repurposed them to produce a tumor cell-killing chemical. Furthermore, the modified tumor cells were programmed to express proteins that would make them easier for the immune system to recognize, tag, and remember, preparing the immune system for a long-term anti-tumor response.

The researchers tested their repurposed CRISPR-enhanced and reverse-engineered therapeutic tumor cells (ThTC) in various mouse strains, including one that bore human bone marrow, liver, and thymus cells, simulating the human immunological milieu.

Shah’s team also created a two-layered safety switch within the cancer cell that, when activated, eliminates ThTCs if necessary. In these models, this dual-action cell treatment proved safe, adaptable, and efficacious, indicating a path toward therapy.

While more research and development are required, Shah’s team picked this model and used human cells to smooth the route to translating their findings for patient settings.

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