It is the ‘holy grail’ of medicine — a cure for cancer. Hopes have now been raised on that possibility with claims German researchers have made a breakthrough in the hunt for a universal cancer vaccine.
The vaccine claims to use the body’s own immune system.
Scientists have been looking at ways in which your own body can be used to tackle cancer for a long time. For this vaccine, the German team took a small part of the cancer cells and injected them into very small fat cells and then this was injected into the blood stream.
The idea behind using that small part of cancer material was to stimulate the patient’s immune system that then went on to create things called ‘killer cells’ of T cells that we all have, which attack viruses. What this has also triggered is the immune system’s ability to attack the cancer in the same way it would attack another infection.
In speaking with Sunrise Dr Andrew Rochford says the immune system reacts more strongly to the presence of ‘new’ cancer cells than to the original cancer cells because of the way the cells are exposed to the immune system.
“If you think of the immune system as a lock and key type system. It has to recognise that something is foreign and then it has to create the cells that have a different role, which is to kill the foreign invader and then from there go on to hopefully eradicate the disease,” Rochford says.
“The problem is with a lot of cancer cells they’re very clever at hiding those elements that let the immune system recognise that they’re there and stimulate that response.”
He says the creation of a vaccine would expose the body to that cancer virus in the same way influenza is exposed to the immune system, which would allow the body to fight the cancer off.
Rochford says immunotherapy in cancer is considered “the most promising” area of cancer research. In order for the vaccine to be made available to the human population researchers need to ensure that the product is safe, but when compared to 15 years ago when this type of investigation commenced we are a lot closer to finding a realistic cure.