A new cancer vaccine has been developed that could revolutionize immunotherapy for years to come. Researchers have created a universal cancer vaccine that could activate the immune system to attack any type of tumor, according to the publication ScienceAlert.

The vaccine is expected to stimulate the immune system to kill tumors in any part of the body. The cancer vaccine will be given to patients who already have the disease instead of preventing cancer from forming.

This vaccine uses RNA or ribonucleic acid taken from the patients’ own cancer cells and throwing these pieces of RNA at the immune system. The patient’s immune cells then attack any tumors that they come across.

The researchers changed the RNA in increments inside small darts thrown at the immune system, which should stimulate immune cells to remove any type of cancer or tumor from the body. This is why this treatment is called the universal cancer vaccine.

“[Such] vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumour antigen can be encoded by RNA,” the research team stated in Nature.

“Thus, the nanoparticulate RNA immunotherapy approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.”

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Previously, immunotherapies included genetically engineering cancer-targeting immune cells in the lab and then injecting those immune cells back into the patient. This has taken an excessive amount of time and has been an expensive process.

The difference with the universal cancer vaccine is that it is first made in the lab and introduces the cancerous DNA to immune cells in the body. This is a less invasive process and the RNA can be slightly changed to target more cancers.

Without tweaking and positioning the vaccine directly at the immune system, patients’ immunity have a more difficult time removing cancers.

“Cancer cells are similar in many ways to normal cells and the immune system avoids attacking the self,” said Dutch immunologists Jolanda de Vries and Carl Figdor.

When researchers create a cancer vaccine, they need to use an antigen which differentiates the cancer cells from healthy cells for the immune system.

“Only relatively modest immune responses occur with vaccines containing antigens that are also expressed on healthy tissue,” explained de Vries and Carl Figdor. “Strong immune responses can be expected only when cancer cells express antigens that are not usually expressed in normal adult cells.”

The researchers added an antigen to the cancerous RNA and coated it with a fatty acid membrane with a negative charge. The charge then gets the vaccine to move toward dendritic immune cells when it is injected into a patient. The dendritic cells exhibit the RNA to killer T cells in the immune system, which go out to destroy the cancerous cells in the body.

The researchers so far have used the cancer vaccine in three patients with melanoma. The vaccine was only looked at safety in human clinical trials. The only side effects were flu-like symptoms. The study will continue with 12-month follow-up results before starting a larger clinical trial to test effectiveness of the vaccine.

“By combining laboratory-based studies with results from an early-phase clinical trial, this research shows that a new type of treatment vaccine could be used to treat patients with melanoma by boosting the effects of their immune systems,” Aine McCarthy, the senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, told The Telegraph.

“Because the vaccine was only tested in three patients, larger clinical trials are needed to confirm it works and is safe, while more research will determine if it could be used to treat other types of cancer.”

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