Experimental vaccine shows potential of boosting immune system to fight cancer
Anna Seward - Mar 2013
A novel type of immunotherapy could help the immune system to fight off cancer, early research suggests.
An experimental cancer 'vaccine' currently being tested in the lab has highlighted researchers' growing interest in the field of immunotherapy - an approach that aims to stimulate and prime the immune system to help it fight off disease.
Traditionally, scientists have tried to develop drugs that target the tumour or impair its ability to obtain nutrients.
But these approaches often involve debilitating side-effects as a result of damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Increasingly, researchers are looking at ways to build up the body's own immune system so that it is better equipped to tackle the cancer itself.
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Centre have been carrying out preclinical lab tests using a novel immunotherapy that could help to treat and prevent metastases - secondary tumours that develop when cancer spreads from the initial tumour site to other parts of the body.
As well as helping to prevent the development of secondary tumours, the vaccine could train the patient's immune system cells to guard against the recurrence of disease.
The vaccine consists of a molecule called Flagrp-170, which is made up of two distinct proteins.
When delivered directly to tumour cells in the lab, the vaccine elicited a significant immune response and significantly boosted the survival of laboratory animals with melanoma, prostate and bowel tumours.
Lead author Dr Xiang-Yang Wang, whose findings are published in the journal Cancer Research, said: "Overcoming cancer's ability to suppress the body's natural immune responses and restore or develop immunity for tumour eradication is the goal of cancer immunotherapy.
"Successfully promoting anti-tumour immunity will help eradicate tumour cells, control cancer progression and help prevent tumour relapse."
He added that this type of immunotherapy could be used on its own or alongside conventional anti-cancer therapies "to develop and establish immune protection against cancer and its metastases".
While this particular treatment is still a long way from reaching the clinic, there are already products in existence that may help to increase the activity of the immune system and boost its ability to fight disease.
One such product is BioBran MGN-3, which is one of the most effective food supplements currently available for immune system support.
Formed from the breakdown of rice bran using enzymes derived from shiitake mushrooms, this natural product contains a unique blend of hemicellulose nutrients that help to optimise the body's own healing abilities.