Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are developing a cancer vaccine again the deadly brain cancer, glioblastoma.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers created a cancer vaccine to simultaneously kill and prevent the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma. The team developed a new cell therapy approach to eliminate established tumors and induce long-term immunity — training the immune system so that it can prevent cancer from recurring.
The cancer itself is used to train the immune system how to identify cancer cells, and also helps kill them.
“Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines,” said Shah, director of the Center for Stem Cell and Translational Immunotherapy and the vice chair of research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Brigham and faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute. “Using gene engineering, we are repurposing cancer cells to develop a therapeutic that kills tumor cells and stimulates the immune system to both destroy primary tumors and prevent cancer.”
Now for the letdown:
The researchers tested their dual-action, cancer-killing vaccine in an advanced mouse model of glioblastoma, with promising results.
So far it’s just rodents with brain cancer who are being treated but here’s where it becomes interesting. Shah’s lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital turned live cancer cells into double agents that hunt down and kill their fellow cancer cells.
Cancer vaccines are an active area of research for many labs, but the approach that Shah and his colleagues have taken is new. Instead of using inactivated tumor cells, the team repurposed living tumor cells, which possess an unusual feature — living tumor cells will travel long distances across the brain to return to the site of their fellow tumor cells.
Taking advantage of this unique property, Shah’s team engineered living tumor cells using the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 and repurposed them to release tumor cell killing agents. Also, the engineered tumor cells were designed to express factors that would make them easy for the immune system to spot, tag and remember, priming the immune system for a long-term anti-tumor response.
Shah and his colleagues hope to begin Phase I clinical trials in the Boston area soon. Moderna (the people who brought us mRNA covid vaccines) are currently working on a mRNA cancer vaccine that has shown promise.