Researchers at Dublin’s Trinity College have made a promising breakthrough in the battle against cancer.
The research team have developed and patented a vaccine that can kill cancer cells and hope to test it on humans within the next three years.
Research team leader Professor Kingston Mills told the Irish Times: “The idea of cancer vaccines is now a reality.”
The team led by Professor Mills have developed a way to block the natural ability of cancer cells to suppress the immune system. The Irish Times reports that once blocked, the cancer cell can be attacked directly by specialised blood cells formed by the vaccine.
The Dublin breakthrough comes a year after US authorities approved the first cancer vaccine.
“It improves prostate cancer patient survival on average by 4.1 months,” said Professor Mills, professor of experimental immunology and director of Trinity’s immunology research centre.
“While it works, it is not brilliant. We have demonstrated a way of making vaccines like this much more effective.”
The professor explained to the paper that vaccines protect against infectious diseases by triggering the production of specialised cells that kill the infectious agent.
Professor Mills, a Science Foundation Ireland principal investigator, added, “With cancer it is more difficult. The cancer is seen as ‘self’ by the immune system but the tumours also release powerful immunosuppressive substances that block the immune response.
“We have found a way to immunise in this suppressive area. It blocks the signals that drive immuno suppression but is also able to kill the tumour cells.”
The professor highlighted how the combination treatment curbs the tumour’s immunosuppressive response while also enhancing the production of special white blood cells called killer T cells that attack and destroy the tumour cells.
Researchers have successfully tested the method against three forms of cancer in mice: skin, colon, and lung cancers, and they believe their method should also work against many more cancer types.
The team’s findings will be published this month in the journal Cancer Research.