A synthetic vaccine produced at the Weizmann Institute stopped lung cancer from spreading in mice and offers hope as a potential treatment form human cancers.
One of the major problems in cancer is that the immune system does not react to tumors with sufficient vigor, eventually enabling the cancer to overrun the body. With this research, the scientists appear to have found a way to prompt a stronger response from the immune system.
Prof. Lea Eisenbach and her colleagues in the Institute's Immunology Department discovered that connexin-37, a protein normally present in lung cells, contains a mutation in cancerous cells. When they injected mice with the mutant protein, the animals' immune systems produced white blood cells known as cytotoxic T lymphocytes that attacked and killed the cancerous cells.
The scientists developed a synthetic vaccine from this compound and found that it not only protected mice with cancer from the further spread of tumors but reduced the number of existing tumors. In experiments, some of the vaccinated mice were still alive more than a year later, while untreated mice died after a month.
If developed for human cancer therapy in the future, such vaccines could be particularly useful for mopping up the tiny tumors that often remain after surgeons have removed the main growth.