Scientists develop a vaccine that destroys AND prevents untreatable brain cancer which killed Beau Biden and John McCain
- A new Glioblastoma treatment uses living cancer cells to reduce brain tumors
- Cells are removed, modified, and returned to induce a strong immune response
- The cell therapy method, so far tested only on mice, produced promising results
A new experimental vaccine may hold hope for sufferers of the incurable brain cancer glioblastoma.
The dual-action shot – so far only tested in mice – eliminates existing tumors and prevents future cancer from returning.
Experts take live pieces of patients’ tumors and reprogram them to attack the glioblastoma before reinjecting them into the body. From there, the re-engineered living cancer cells make a beeline to the original tumor, allowing the immune system to tag and remember them as they travel.
While it has only been tested in animals, the shot offers hope in the treatment of a deadly cancer that kills virtually all patients within five years. President Biden’s son Beau succumbed to glioblastoma in 2015 at just 46 years old. Senator John McCain died in 2018, only one year after his diagnosis.
The new vaccine works in 4 steps: First, cancer cells are removed from the tumor; Second, through gene mutation using CRISPR technology, the cells are re-engineered to produce a tumor killing agent and express factors allowing the immune system to better recognize and tag them; Third, the cells are re-inserted, and begin travelling across the brain to the tumor site, producing a strong immune defense; Finally, the tumor reduces as a result of the two-pronged attack
Glioblastoma are malignant, stage 4 tumors that develop deep in the brain and spinal cord.
Their fast growth and invasion of surrounding brain tissue makes 100% removal nearly impossible, while the changing nature of the tumor cells over time makes treatment incredibly difficult.
The new vaccine is the result of years of painstaking research by a lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
The treatments works by extracting live tumor cells from a Glioblastoma, and transforming them into potent, anti-cancer killers.
Most cancer vaccines in production use inactivated cancer particles to help the immune system seek and destroy them.
But the new shot turns living cells into tumor killers that will both destroy active tumor cells and allow the immune system to memorize how to combat them next time.
This method harnesses the unique ability of active cancer cells to travel vast distances across the brain to return to the site of their fellow tumor cells, much like homing pigeons returning to the roost.
The transplanted cells are transformed using CRISPR technology, a gene editor that allowed the team to reprogram the cells to release a tumor killing agent.
The lab also conditioned the tumor cells to express factors that make them more recognizable to the immune system, allowing it to tag and remember them.
The patient’s immune system is thereby primed for a long-term, anti-tumor response.
Once packaged into a vaccine, the team tested it on mice bearing cells derived from humans, mimicking how it would work on people.
Dr. Khalid Shah, one of the creators of the shot, said: ‘Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines.
‘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.’
The team’s findings were published in Science Translational Medicine this week.
It comes as a number of new vaccines show promising results in trials.
Moderna’s new cancer vaccine uses the same mRNA technology as its Covid vaccination, using pieces of genetic code from patients’ tumors to effectively ‘teach’ the body to fight off cancer.
The shot, combined with an immunotherapy drug, reduced the chance of relapse or death in post-surgery Melanoma patients by 44 percent, compared to the drug on its own.
Another recent cancer breakthrough saw all 10 participants of a last resort Mount Sinai trial go from having just years to live, to complete or partial remission.
The vaccine they received was injected directly into the tumor itself, melting it away as well as teaching the body to hunt and kill cancer cells that have spread elsewhere.