In the pursuit of more effective cancer treatments, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have developed a groundbreaking vaccine that promises to enhance the body’s immune response against cancer cells.
The approach involves targeting cancer tumour cells with specialized nanoparticles that when exposed to near-infrared laser light generate heat. This in turn prompts the cells to produce specific proteins due to the heat shock that signals the immune system to activate.
“The utilisation of nanoparticles and near-infrared laser light in human clinical trials presents exciting prospects for various medical applications, including cancer therapy,” said Dr Anuj Singh, a research scientist at Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, in Navi Mumbai.
A better cancer vaccine
While the idea of developing vaccines to fight cancer is not new, previous versions have faced several challenges due to the diversity of tumours, changes in immune response, and their inability to reach the tumour site.
The new Chinese study which was published in Nature Communications takes a novel approach at developing a single-dose cancer vaccine. The researchers said that the vaccine would be adaptable to an individual’s immune response, making it far more effective.
We devised a tumour cell vaccine (TCV) endorsing a single injection-multiple irradiation approach for the on-demand manipulation of the local immune response,” said Meng Jiaqi, the primary author of the study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
What this means is that with just one injection, clinicians would be able to perform multiple radiation therapies to heat the cancer cells. This is unlike current TCVs which are multi-dose and can cause a lot of side effects.
After a single vaccination at the tumour site, a non-invasive laser application triggers mild warming, recruiting and activating immune cells, particularly dendritic cells. The researchers utilised a ‘tumour growth rate fluctuation’ metric to determine the ideal timing for laser sessions.
This ensures precise management of the body’s immune responses against the tumour. They also found that adjusting the timing and frequency of the laser treatment could be used to fine-tune the treatment and bring out the most effective immune response.
“These treatments can be applied before or during other cancer therapies to sensitise tumours or activate immune cells, aligning treatment schedules with the immune system’s peak activity times,” Dr Singh explains.
The power of nanoparticles
At the core of this innovative approach are photothermal nanoparticles, capable of converting light into heat when exposed to laser light. Dendritic cells, integral components of the immune system, are drawn to the heated area, activating other immune cells to combat tumour cells.
It’s a unique method says Dr Singh. “Heat shock proteins (HSPs) in immunotherapy represent a distinctive and highly personalised approach. This sets it apart from other immunotherapies, offering a highly personalized therapy,” he adds.
The study by the Chinese researchers demonstrated the efficacy of this nanoparticle-based vaccine in treating breast, colon, lung and pancreatic cancer. They also used a mouse model with a human-like immune system to show its efficacy in treating pancreatic cancer.
Prof Wei Wei from the Institute of Process Engineering at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that the on-demand TCV has shown, “good flexibility and potent therapeutic efficacy, with promising future clinical applications.”
While a lot more research is required, this groundbreaking approach of precisely timed interventions to bolster the body’s natural defences against cancer could offer an effective solution against cancer soon.
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