- Currently, cancer is the second most frequent cause of death in the world, just below cardiovascular diseases.
- Tumors cause 9.6 million deaths per year but the trend continues to increase constantly.
- A project in development hopes to achieve the first personalized vaccines against cancer in history.
Medicines are one of the most important inventions of the modern era. Not only are they useful against a wide range of diseases, but they have also increased life expectancy worldwide. While now, with the support of technology, the next goal is developing personalized vaccines against cancer seems like a closer goal every time.
In this case, researchers from Mayo Clinic They are already working on this project that could attack the distinctive characteristics of tumors in each person. The new approach, based on the Advances in genomic research and data analysis have transformative potential to bolster the power of the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.
“For some cancer patients, the vaccine could induce the shrinking of their tumors and provide long-term, durable anti-tumor immunity,” says Dr. Dr Keith Knutsonco-director of the Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center in Florida.
Dr. Knutson indicates that the personalized cancer vaccines They are designed similar to flu or COVID-19 vaccines, in which the key ingredient is a specific disease-related protein.
“As the immune system learns to recognize that protein, it can stimulate the production of killer T cells to fight it.”
With Mayo Clinic’s therapeutic cancer vaccine strategy, the core element consists of pieces of a person’s unique tumor protein mutations, known as neoantigens. Microscopic fragments of the protein are generated from genetic mutations in tumor cells. Neoantigens can only be found on the surface of cancer cells, not healthy ones.
Because neoantigens are foreign to the body, the immune system can recognize them as pathogenic invaders. When combined with immunotherapy, the vaccine could help generate a robust defensive response.
“The idea is that if we can identify 20 to 30 mutated proteins in a person’s cancer, we can include them in a vaccine. Then we will be able to repeatedly immunize people while they are receiving immunotherapy treatments with immune checkpoint inhibitors.”
In preclinical animal models, Dr. Knutson and his team applied the combination of immunotherapy and vaccine to treat breast cancer. They found that dual therapy prolonged survival without causing significant toxicity.
Design personalized vaccines for each patient
The vaccine development process begins at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine with the sequencing of a patient’s tumor cells and the analysis of DNA and amino acid chains—the building blocks of proteins—to find potential neoantigen candidates.
Supervision of the critical selection of antigens is carried out by the Dr Yan Asmann, bioinformatician at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine in Florida and co-creator of the Mayo Clinic Neoantigen Personalized Vaccine Program. She uses extensive sequencing methods and computational algorithms to choose up to 36 neoantigens—out of hundreds of thousands—that can generate the strongest immune response.
“Some tumors are known to exhibit large changes, such as genomic structural rearrangement, in which entire fragments of DNA are separated and refused. These large changes actually generate more foreign neoantigens and, as a consequence, more immunogenicity.”
Dr. Asmann’s team then manually validates the quality of each mutation and the precision of the neoantigen candidates that arise from those mutations.
Once the neoantigens are selected, Dr. Knutson designs the vaccine ingredients with the goal of producing the strongest possible immune responses to completely destroy the tumor.
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