A Cancer Vaccine Could be Coming

A golden nanostar, seen here under an electron microscope, is a key part of a new ...
A golden nanostar, seen here under an electron microscope, is a key part of a new treatment that might eventually lead to a cancer vaccine (Credit: Duke University)

In experiments on mice, researchers at Duke University have found that combining two different techniques for fighting cancer is more effective than either treatment is on its own. In one case, the mouse’s immune system not only destroyed the tumor, but stayed strong enough to ward off a later injection of cancer cells, raising hopes that the strategy could one day lead to a viable cancer vaccine.

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Electric Relief

A jab that uses electricity to blast its way into immune system cells could revolutionize the treatment of asthma.

The ‘supercharged’ vaccine enables the immune system to overcome dust mite allergy – one of the leading triggers of asthma attacks.

The attacks are triggered by the immune system overreacting to the droppings of the tiny bugs, and releasing the chemical histamine.

It is this rush of histamine that leads to swelling and irritation of the airways, causing breathing difficulties and asthma attacks.

The current ‘vaccine’ against asthma is immunotherapy, where the patient receives multiple injections of small amounts of the harmful dust mite protein.

The idea is that the immune system becomes used to the protein, so no longer overreacts.

This exposure also triggers the production of helper cells, which dampen down this overreaction. However, the treatment can be lengthy, and involves 50 to 80 injections over as long as five years.

As an alternative, scientists have developed vaccines that, rather than containing the actual dust mite protein, contain tiny amounts of the protein’s DNA.

This contains the instructions for ‘building’ the protein. With the new technique, the DNA is injected into the body, where it is absorbed by the immune cells. The cells then manufacture the protein themselves, using the instructions from the DNA.

This tiny exposure allows the immune system to acclimatise to the protein and produce helper cells. This confers protection in just one injection, rather than many.

However, all cells are covered by a protective layer, called the plasma membrane. Previous vaccines have struggled to get through this shield.

The electric vaccine, however, could be the solution. Scientists at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, injected mice with dust mite allergies with a DNA vaccine immediately after firing electrical pulses through the skin.

These pulses temporarily break up the protective outer membrane that keeps immune system cells intact.

The results, published in the journal Immunology Letters, showed helper cell levels were 40 times higher after an electric jab than a conventional one.

 
Mite-y powerful: The 'supercharged' vaccine enables the immune system to overcome the dust mite allergy - one of the leading triggers of asthma attacks
Mite-y powerful: The ‘supercharged’ vaccine enables the immune system to overcome the dust mite allergy – one of the leading triggers of asthma attacks

The team are confident the technology will work on humans. Malayka Rahman, research officer at Asthma UK, says: ‘Nine out of ten people with asthma tell us dust triggers their symptoms, increasing their risk of asthma attack.

‘However, dust is notoriously difficult to avoid. Although this research is an important step forward towards more effective vaccines, it is in its early stages.’

Attribution: Daily Mail