Can the cure for deadly cancers be in the cancer itself?
Boston scientists in groundbreaking research have used a new way to turn cancer cells into potent, anti-cancer agents.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers created a cancer vaccine to simultaneously kill and prevent the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma. The team developed a new cell therapy approach to eliminate established tumors and induce long-term immunity — training the immune system so that it can prevent cancer from recurring.
“I’m a big believer that the cure for these tough cancers might be in the cancer itself, that we can use cancer against cancer,” the Brigham’s Khalid Shah told the Boston Herald on Wednesday.
“Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines,” said Shah, director of the Center for Stem Cell and Translational Immunotherapy and the vice chair of research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Brigham and faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute. “Using gene engineering, we are repurposing cancer cells to develop a therapeutic that kills tumor cells and stimulates the immune system to both destroy primary tumors and prevent cancer.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin announces he has ‘serious but curable’ cancer
Wish Book: Jacob’s Heart, delivering help to kids with cancer, seeks to expand
Opinion: The intersection of oncology and a biblical Christmas story
The researchers tested their dual-action, cancer-killing vaccine in an advanced mouse model of glioblastoma, with promising results.
Cancer vaccines are an active area of research for many labs, but the approach that Shah and his colleagues have taken is new. Instead of using inactivated tumor cells, the team repurposed living tumor cells, which possess an unusual feature — living tumor cells will travel long distances across the brain to return to the site of their fellow tumor cells.
Taking advantage of this unique property, Shah’s team engineered living tumor cells using the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 and repurposed them to release tumor cell killing agents. Also, the engineered tumor cells were designed to express factors that would make them easy for the immune system to spot, tag and remember, priming the immune system for a long-term anti-tumor response.
“Our goal is to take an innovative but translatable approach so that we can develop a therapeutic, cancer-killing vaccine that ultimately will have a lasting impact in medicine,” Shah said.
The researchers will soon be asking the FDA for approval for a Phase 1 trial. That would be for about 20 patients in the Boston area.
Last month, Moderna — which has been known for its COVID vaccines — announced groundbreaking data that shows the potential of mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines. Moderna’s mRNA cancer vaccine combined with a Merck treatment immunotherapy slashed the risk of melanoma coming back, according to new trial results.
Brigham scientists have developed a new dual-action cell therapy to eliminate tumors and train the immune system to prevent cancer’s recurrence. (Courtesy Graphic from Brigham)