Did Researchers Just Find a Cancer Cure?

 

A new study out of Stanford University has the medical community buzzing. Researchers injected 90 mice with a cancer “vaccine,” and by the end of treatment, 87 of the mice’s cancer had disappeared–in other words, the vaccine showed a 97% cure rate.

The injection isn’t technically a vaccine (which must, by definition, provide long-lasting effects) but it’s administered in the same way. The term “cancer vaccine” specifically refers to a treatment that destroys metastases and keeps cancer from returning, as explained by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

In the Stanford study, researchers injected trace amounts of immune-engaging agents into the mice’s tumors. Compellingly, the vaccine obliterated even the most far-off, untreated metastases. Equally exciting, the treatment was effective for a variety of cancers (including colon, breast, and lymphoma).

The cancer vaccine is an immunotherapy that uses two specific agents to activate T-cells, a particular type of immune cell designed to hunt malignant cells and attack them. But as a cancer grows, it overpowers T-cells, rendering them ineffective. This vaccine essentially reactivates those T-cells so they become powerful enough to obliterate malignancies.

Imagine an arm wrestling match. A cancer cell nearly pins the T-cell, but then, if injected with the right agents, the T-cell gets a second wind and flips the cancer cell to the table. That late-game burst of energy is the cancer vaccine at work.

One of the vaccine’s two cancer-fighting agents is already approved for human use, and the second is currently being studied. In January, a clinical trial began examining how this treatment impacts lymphoma. It’s too soon to tell if this exact vaccine will yield that same high success rate in people, but we know the findings are promising and further reinforce the merits of immunotherapy. In 2017, CAR-t therapy–a type of immunotherapy–was FDA-approved and has been widely effective in humans. Researchers hope this vaccine could be another successful mode of cellular-based treatment.

If the vaccine produces the same results in humans, it would mean affordable, minimally invasive, low-side-effect treatment for a wide range of cancers. Immunotherapy continues to deliver exciting results in studies and practice, and it will continue to change how we think about and treat cancer.