By October 2020, when treatment was completed, Cassidy’s CT scans were normal: there was no evidence of cancer in her body.
message inside a needle
Basically, “What we’re trying to do when using the mRNA vaccine to treat cancer is to alert the immune system to the tumor so it can attack it — it works like biological software,” explains John Cooke, MD and Medical Director of the Center for Cancer. RNA Therapies at Methodist Hospital of Houston. ” against types of cancer that don’t have good solutions at the moment or that are likely to metastasize.”
Some mRNA vaccines for cancer treatment take a turnkey approach: pre-packaged vaccines are designed to look for target proteins located on the surface of certain malignant tumors. At the moment, its operation is a matter of speculation, but some experts have reservations. “The question is: what is the target?
For the vaccine to be effective, it is necessary to know the correct target”, argues David Braun, an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard Medical School and an expert in immunotherapies. After all, in the case of cancer, there is no universal target, as there is with the coronavirus spike protein, and mutations in the DNA of cancer cells vary from one patient to another.
This is where personalized mRNA vaccines for cancer treatment come into play — and may hold the most promise, according to experts. In the personalized approach, a sample of tumor tissue from a patient is collected and the DNA is analyzed to identify mutations that distinguish cancer cells from normal, healthy cells, explains Bauman, who is also head of the faculty’s hematology/oncology department. of Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Computers compare the two DNA samples to identify specific mutations in the tumor and then the results are used to make an mRNA molecule that will be inserted into the vaccine. This process typically takes four to eight weeks—“and takes a lot of effort to complete,” notes Robert A. Seder, head of the Cell Immunology Section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center.
After the application of the mRNA vaccine, the patient’s cells receive the message to produce proteins that are associated with specific mutations in their tumor. Then, the tumor protein fragments, created from the mRNA, are recognized by the patient’s immune system, Morris explains.
Basically, mRNA instructions train the immune system’s T lymphocytes—virus-fighting white blood cells—to recognize up to 20 mutations in cancer cells and attack only them. The immune system scans the entire body on a search and destroy mission, looking for similar cancer cells.
“So that it goes undetected, the cancer manages to signal to the immune system that it doesn’t need to work,” explains Anderson. “The purpose of the mRNA vaccine is to alert and prepare the immune system to look for the characteristics of tumor cells and attack them.”
“Customized cancer vaccines wake up specialized cytotoxic T lymphocytes, which recognize abnormal cells, and activate them to kill off cancer cells,” adds Bauman. “The point is to use our own immune system as an army to eliminate cancer.”“This is the epitome of personalized medicine,” says Morris. “It’s a highly personalized and specific approach, not a general approach for everyone.”