A study by scientists at Stanford University has reported that a ‘cancer vaccine’ is able to prime the immune system in mice, preventing the development of breast, lung and skin cancers.

Thursday 15 February 2018      Research

In the study, published today in Cell Stem Cell, researchers first generated cells that are able to differentiate into any cell type – called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – from the mice’s own cells. iPSCs were used as they are known to express similar molecules on their surface to cancer cells, which the immune system is able to identify and target.

The team found that injecting inactivated iPSCs had a similar effect to a normal vaccine – the injection was able to prime the immune system to build up a defence against cancer cells. This meant that when breast cancer cells were introduced into the mice four weeks later, seven in ten of the mice rejected the tumours, and the remaining three had smaller tumours than mice in which the immune system had not been primed.

In addition, looking at melanoma (skin cancer) cells, researchers identified that in mice injected with iPSCs following the removal of the melanoma, the immune system was able to attack any cancerous cells that remained.

The team hope in future to be able to reprogramme patients’ blood and skin cells into iPSCs that can be delivered as a ‘cancer vaccine’ as a follow-up after surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Dr Richard Berks, Senior Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“The potential of using stem cells to create a ‘cancer vaccine’ is really exciting. That these stem cells could train the immune system on their own to attack tumours may even give this innovative approach the edge over other types of immunotherapy in development.

“However, this research has so far only been carried out in mice, and so further studies using human cells are required before we know whether this approach might work in patients.

“It’s essential that patients receive the most appropriate treatments for them, and immunotherapy is an exciting avenue of research that is already showing great promise in treating other types of cancer. 

“We look forward to future advances, and hope that this encouraging ‘proof-of-principal’ will lead to a new, more personalised approach to treating breast cancer.”