Scientists are investigating whether a cancer vaccine can be developed using the same mRNA technology as in the COVID-19 jabs.
A team at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina has begun testing jabs that can recruit the immune system and kill cells that are replicating uncontrollably, stopping the disease in its tracks. can be given
Potential vaccines are being touted as a ‘game-changer’ that could help address America’s second biggest cause of death.
The research comes as part of a larger movement to incorporate mRNA technology into more forms of treatment after a long-tapped technology emerged during the pandemic because of its ease of development and manufacturing.
Zachary Hartman (pictured), assistant professor in immunology at Duke University in North Carolina, said: ‘If we can roll this out in a clinic for cancer, we think it could be a game-changer’
‘If we can roll this out to a cancer clinic, we think it could be a game-changer,’ Dr Zachary Hartman, assistant professor of immunology at Duke, told WGHP.
The mRNA shots produced by Pfizer, which partnered with German-based BioNtech and Moderna, proved to be one of the most effective developed.
While the technology was discovered decades ago, it went largely untapped before pandemic vaccine development came to the fore.
What is cancer vaccine? Are any available?
Cancer vaccines aim to recruit the immune system to fight disease.
Cancer is not caused by a virus, but occurs when cells start dividing uncontrollably due to mutations.
These cells may have a unique antigen on their surface compared to healthy cells.
Cancer vaccines display this to the immune system, promoting an immune response.
Scientists say that the immune system then hunts down and kills the cancer cells.
Only one cancer vaccine – for prostate cancer – is available to date.
In this, white blood cells are removed from the body and come into contact with antigens from cancer cells.
These are then re-administered where scientists hope they fight the disease.
But the treatment, available for end-stage cancer patients, doesn’t cause the tumor to shrink and only gives men who get it a few extra months to live.
Now, companies and scientists are further exploring how to use mRNA, and whether it could hold answers to solving some of the biggest mysteries of drugs.
“Remember, people were hoping that a successful vaccine would provide protective immunity to about 50 percent of patients,” Hartmann said of the mRNA COVID shots.
‘(But) the first two mRNA vaccines provided more than 90 percent protection, a remarkable achievement.’
Currently there is only one jab available against prostate cancer for people living with the disease, which extends patients’ lives by a few months.
Hartmann believes mRNA could change the way cancer is treated.
“I think in my lifetime we will see cancer as a more manageable disease,” he told a North Carolina-based local news station.
‘We’re going to turn the dial and be able to treat more and more types of cancer in the years and decades to come where it wasn’t a sentence like 20 or 30 years ago.
‘I don’t think we’ll ever be able to make the world cancer-free, but I think we’ll be able to prevent a lot of cancers and then a lot of cancers that we’ll be able to catch and treat early, we have very effective treatments. Will be.’
Scientists at Duke University are currently testing an mRNA vaccine for breast cancer – whereby the body makes many more proteins, potentially triggering a stronger immune response.
It is currently in Phase II trials, and is being tested on 39 women. The result is expected by the end of this year.
Scientists have been developing vaccines to prevent cancer or treat disease in patients who already have it for years.
Unlike COVID, cancer doesn’t start with a virus, but when cells start dividing uncontrollably because of a mutation.
These cells may have a unique protein on their surface compared to healthy cells.
Scientists say a jab will work against cancer by exposing the body’s immune system to this protein.
It is hoped that this will help the body’s immune system hunt down and kill cancer cells, helping to prevent disease.
But some scientists have warned that the cancer vaccine may never work because for patients their immune systems are already too weak in general.
They also caution that in some cases cancer cells may not look any different from healthy cells in the body, meaning cancer jabs cannot be used.
Only one cancer vaccine – against prostate cancer – has been approved for use in the US to date.
Vaccine maker Moderna is testing mRNA vaccines for flu and HIV (stock image)
It is specially formulated for each patient, and is made by extracting white blood cells and mixing them with proteins from prostate cancer cells.
The white blood cells are then administered into the body.
The treatment is currently available only for late-stage cancer patients.
It has not been shown to prevent disease or lead to tumor shrinkage, but may prolong patients’ lives by a few months.
Scientists hope that by developing mRNA-based shots against cancer, they may be able to develop better shots.
The mRNA jabs use part of the genetic code called messenger RNA, or mRNA, and will work by tricking the body into producing a harmless part of the cancer cells.
This will help the body recognize them as a potential threat, and with it hunt cells.
The Duke scientists have yet to disclose which cancers they are targeting with their mRNA shots, or whether their jab will be aimed at preventing or treating cancer.
Leading vaccine maker Moderna is entering trials for the flu shot, and even the technology is being explored with an HIV vaccine with an mRNA base.
Cancer is the second biggest killer in the US, causing more than 600,000 deaths each year.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death behind nearly a quarter of deaths, followed by cancers of the colon and rectum and pancreas.
Covid vaccines using mRNA technology make up the bulk of those produced across the US
Developed by Pfizer and Moderna, jabs have been given to millions of people in more than 82 countries.
Preliminary studies showed that jabs were up to 95 percent effective in preventing disease with covid. But over time the protection from them went down.